New Jersey

NJ Students Stranded Overnight at School, Dad Has 13-Hour Commute

Gov. Phil Murphy says he has ordered a thorough investigation of the storm preparedness and response

What to Know

  • Students in NJ school district were forced to stay overnight after the season's first snowstorm plagued roads around the Garden State
  • Buses and parents were unable to get to students and children in West Orange
  • Staffers at the middle school tweeted out photos of students playing games, eating dinner, sleeping on gym mats and watching movies

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says he has called for a thorough review of storm management in his state and understands the frustration of parents, students and commuters trapped in the throes of Thursday's snow chaos.

Pausing to slam the Port Authority for its handling of the Manhattan bus terminal madness during the fray, Murphy said Friday the disaster -- one that saw 13-hour commutes and students sleeping in schools overnight -- was bad luck.

"Unfortunately, the worst of the storm coincided with the early dismissals of schools and work places, meaning just when we needed our road crews out there most they were competing with folks understandably trying to get home as well," Murphy said, echoing similar comments made by Mayor de Blasio in New York City. "On top of that, the worsening conditions and multiple accidents further impacted our efforts."

Also as in New York, the Department of Transportation said the problem was compounded when their plows couldn't clear the roads, because by the time they got there, it was too congested. 

The governor said there had been just shy of 1,000 accidents reported statewide as of Friday morning, including one fatality involving a car vs. train on tracks. At one point, Newark was virtually unreachable by car, with icy conditions shutting down major arteries through the city. 

Murphy, a Democrat, said "lousy" forecasts were partly to blame.

He took a pounding on social media from people complaining about his handling of the storm, including one of his highest-profile constituents. Former Gov. Chris Christie, a Republican, tweeted at Murphy that it took him nearly six hours to travel roughly 30 miles. Murphy didn't respond directly to his predecessor.

Gary Szatkowski, former chief meteorologist for the National Weather Service in New Jersey, said on Twitter that it was the state's poorly executed snow removal plan, not meteorologists, who screwed up.

"They were planning to clean up while freezing rain/sleet were pouring down out of the sky. That's not a plan; that's a recipe for disaster," he tweeted.

Mass transit and the evening commute got so bad during Thursday’s storm that students in one district were forced to spend the night at school, with little hope of getting home until after sunrise. Kids at several West Orange schools, including Liberty Middle School and West Orange High School, were trapped because buses and their parents couldn’t get to them during the historic storm. 

Staffers at the middle school tweeted out photos of students playing games, eating dinner, sleeping on gym mats and watching movies as they awaited their parents and guardians to pick them up, more than 12 hours after the final bell.

"They put us in the cafeteria and gave us mattresses to sleep on," said student Maya Robinson. 

But things were more grim at the high school, where one parent sent News 4 photos of kids sleeping on top of cafeteria tables covered in what appeared to be tarps or emergency blankets. 

One man who lives in West Orange told News 4 about his 13-hour evening commute that ended Friday morning.

“If I could sum it all up in one word I will say ‘treacherous,’ it was very treacherous,” Glen Collins said as he was picking up his son at West Orange High School around 5:30 a.m. Friday.

The school district said it will review what happened and pass its findings to the Board of Education at its next meeting. 

Stanley Nowak, a plumber from Colonia, never made it home from work Thursday night. He and his co-worker were forced to stay in a hotel after a treacherous drive in Essex County.

"It was like a sheet of ice, everyone tried to come and just got worse and worse," he said. "People rolling down the hill hitting each other."

They spent 14 and a half hours sitting in a truck before detouring to a hotel. 

"When I got out, I couldn't stand because I was sitting for 14 and a half hours," said Nowak.  

He added, "The saddest part was seeing little kids walking through the snow up the hill because they had to get home and abandoned their car." 

Murphy admitted the state could have done better but didn't apologize. Intead, he promised, "By the time the next storm is here, we'll be making different decisions and delivering the service everyone expects of us."

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