Travelers share stories of being stuck on I-40

The Larry S. Bryant Multi-purpose and Wellness Center was packed on Wednesday, and while there were a few local people inside, most of those there were not planning to visit the center.

The center opened its doors to more than 80 people who had been stranded in two commercial buses and two personal vehicles on Interstate 40 because of the winter weather. The lobby of the center was packed with luggage that had been off loaded from the buses. Children played basketball in the gym, took the opportunity to stretch their legs on the walking track, and people even took advantage of the shower facilities to freshen up. The drivers of the buses were sleeping because they had driven as long as the law allows them to drive without sleep.

Many of the bus passengers were from the East Coast traveling to Texas, and according to officials at the center this morning, the passengers managed to leave about 8 last night. A pair of passengers agreed to talk about their experiences, including Mike Bell of Atlanta.

"I'm headed to the Dallas area, to Mesquite, Texas," said Bell. "I left Atlanta at 12:10 a.m., on Tuesday and we've been stuck on the bus until about 1 or 2 a.m. (Wednesday) morning when we got to McDonald’s here."

Bell said he was traveling for the final step in his new career.

"I got a truck driving job and I'm missing my orientation class because of all this," Bell said. "The company paid for the ticket, so I'm not out the cost of that."

Bell said there were many people who were worse off than him on his bus.

"Some of these people have been on the bus for a week," Bell said. "They are running out of money to buy food. Some of them have little kids, too. It's just a crazy ordeal."

One of the passengers on the bus had experienced all of the problems described by Bell.

Charlene Sarauw of Binghamton, N.Y. was traveling with her three children, Carlos, Carmen and Celina Motanez, along with a friend and her young child, to San Antonio, Texas.

"We got on the bus going from Binghamton to San Antonio four days ago," Sarauw said. "We were supposed to be there at 5 p.m. (on Wednesday), but we wouldn't be there on time."

Sarauw said she was traveling to San Antonio to start a new job.

"We got stuck in Cleveland, stuck in Cincinnati and then stuck in Memphis before we got stuck out on the Interstate," Sarauw said. "My friend and I have been trying to keep the kids in the back. You can't imagine what it's like to have four small children on a bus that long. It's rough."

Sarauw said money had become an issue for her, but she had been helped with money transfers from family members.

"Without my family's help, we would have been in real trouble," said Sarauw. "My father and boyfriend had to send us money. Right now, my father is driving from Texarkana to come get us."

Sarauw offered that this was her first bus trip and that she would "never do this again."

Despite being tired, Bell and Sarauw, and a few others passengers who declined to speak on the record, said they were grateful to the city and McDonald’s to have a place to get off of the bus.

Mayor Larry Bryant said the city was happy to help those passengers and motorists, and described how the situation unfolded.

"I heard that a couple of buses and some motorists were at McDonald’s after being stuck on the Interstate, so I went down there personally," Bryant said. "I told them if they needed accommodations they could come to the multi-purpose center, take showers and just get out for a while. We're happy to provide this for them. I know it is a bad situation, but I'm glad we can make it a little better for them."

Bryant also praised McDonald’s for allowing the passengers to wait there.

"McDonald’s needs a pat on the back for what they did. Letting them stay in the lobby was a nice thing to do. All of our local businesses do a good job when things like this happen," added Bryant.

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