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Despite officials' warnings, motorists take to roads

City of Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, along with other county and state officials, has urged motorists to stay off roads, citing white-out conditions and heavy winds. But not everyone has heeded these warnings.
City of Laurel Mayor Craig Moe, along with other county and state officials, has urged motorists to stay off roads, citing white-out conditions and heavy winds. But not everyone has heeded these warnings. (Photo courtesy of Mayor Craig Moe)

City, county and state officials have urged drivers to stay off the roads as winter storm Jonas coats the region in nearly two feet of snow. But not everyone has heeded these warnings.

Maryland State Police responded to 661 calls for service, including 150 accidents and 238 assists to motorists, between 3 p.m. on Friday and 7 a.m. on Saturday.

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AAA Mid-Atlantic had received 158 calls in Maryland for emergency roadside assistance and towed 123 vehicles as of 4:15 p.m. on Saturday.

"AAA Mid-Atlantic continues to rescue motorists throughout the day with towing as the primary need of stranded motorists," said Ragina Cooper Averella, a spokesperson for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "The auto club is urging motorists to refrain from driving until the storm has ended. Being stranded on roadways is a dangerous situation that no one should risk."

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Averella said that road conditions during the storm could delay emergency responders from reaching stranded motorists quickly.

Citing poor visibility and heavy winds, Mayor Craig Moe -- via Twitter and the Laurel Leader -- has repeatedly urged Laurel residents to stay off the roads. Baltimore City went so far as to ban all traffic, except for emergency vehicles and plows.

The quick pace of snowfall, in combination with high winds, has left local public works and emergency operations crews struggling to keep up.

"We're trying to touch them up all at one time so it doesn't build up, but it's falling right behind them," said city of Laurel Fire Marshal David Cope, who was acting director of the Emergency Operations Center on Saturday. "They're doing the best they can. But there's a lot of snow falling out there."

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The National Weather Service forecasts that, on Saturday, snow accumulation across Prince George's County will total between 18 and 24 inches. The city of Laurel tweeted that, at 5:15 p.m., measured 21.1 inches of snow in the city.

The snow is expected to taper off overnight, according to state communications with the city of Laurel, with intermittent flurries on Sunday morning.

The city of Laurel's Department of Public Works and Emergency Operations Center are using 18 pieces of equipment to cover clear 24 miles of roadway, according to the city's Facebook page. Cleanup is estimated to last over 24 hours.

A press release from Prince George's County said that 300 vehicles from the county Department of Public Works and Transportation are plowing major roadways, before clearing residential streets, to ensure safe passage for fire and emergency vehicles. All state roads -- identified by numbers such as Route 5, 193 and 210 -- are plowed by the State Highway Administration.

The county is encouraging residents to wait 24 hours after snowfall has stopped before calling the Snow Information Center at 301-350-0500 or 3-1-1 to report non-emergencies or concerns about roadway conditions. The 3-1-1 call center will be open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Citizens can also submit service requests online via CountyClick 3-1-1.

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