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Atlanta storm puts damper on Mayo Clinic nurse's vacation

ATLANTA — This was the last place longtime Mayo Clinic employee Denise Thorson expected to spend her vacation. The nurse of 34 years ended her 21-day Florida vacation a week early to spend time with her grandchild in Rochester. Instead of cradling...

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A motorist steps out and gets some fresh air as he looks at the gridlocked cars on the snow-covered I-85 Northbound, Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014 in Atlanta. Tuesday's storm deposited barely enough to qualify as a storm up North. And yet it was more than enough to paralyze Deep South cities such as Atlanta and Birmingham, and strand thousands of workers who tried to rush home early only to never make it home at all. (AP Photo/Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Hyosub Shin)
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ATLANTA — This was the last place longtime Mayo Clinic employee Denise Thorson expected to spend her vacation.

The nurse of 34 years ended her 21-day Florida vacation a week early to spend time with her grandchild in Rochester. Instead of cradling her kin, she got stuck in a wild Atlanta ice storm Tuesday that left her cuddling her dog in the backseat of the car at a Kwik Trip parking lot across from two hotels that were already full of stranded travelers.

"I'm still on vacation, but it's not where I want to be," the road-weary Thorson said Wednesday afternoon after being trapped in her car for nearly 24 hours when three inches of snow paralyzed one of the country's biggest cities.

Luckily, by Wednesday afternoon, she escaped Atlanta and spent last night in Clarksville, Tenn., before heading home today.

Atlanta's main arteries turned to glare ice in a matter of minutes, Thorson said. She traveled just a few thousand feet in a matter of six hours, and she was frantically calling hotels and family in hopes of finding an escape from the nightmare.

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However, she soon was boxed in by semis as fives lanes of traffic in both directions came to a virtual standstill.

"It turned to glare ice so cars couldn't even move," Thorson said. "I ended up inching through traffic from 2:30 to 8:30 (at night). I was sitting between like six semis, and I couldn't even see where the road was."

Some distressed drivers actually abandoned their cars in hopes of finding shelter elsewhere, but Thorson managed to use an emergency lane to sneak through an off ramp — right into a residential area. She slowly crept her way to two hotels but found both were full already.

Staff offered her a place to sleep in the lobby — but rejected her pleas to also allow her dog inside, forcing her to cuddle with canine while parked in the nearby Kwik Trip parking lot.

After a nerve-wracking night, she tested the roads again. A nearby church was closed, so she parked in a grocery store parking lot to wait it out. Tom Webbles, the Post-Bulletin's Loyalty Manager and Thorson's son, said 300 people already were sheltered inside the store.

"Then my guardian angel came," Thorson said. "There were two ladies from the grocery store offering help, passing out water and food. One of these ladies actually took me home."

Atlanta's Erin Little provided shelter for Thorson and another stranded traveler, giving them a place to shower, warm up and relax until the weather cleared. The dog was even allowed inside.

"It was like a miracle," Thorson said. "I had been in my car for literally over 24 hours."

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Thorson cautions those poking fun at the south for their snow struggles.

"People are saying you get a little snow down here, and (they) don't know how to drive," Thorson said. "That's not it at all. It's glare ice. Whether you know how to drive in it or not, you couldn't.

"Once it hit, it hit so quick and glared up. All of a sudden it was glare ice and then was nothing you could do. I'm giving the Atlanta people a break."

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Denise Thorson

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