Aerial footage shows seemingly endless lines of cars and trucks, bumper to bumper, stranded overnight in eastern Virginia state –– on a stretch of highway that is notorious for traffic jams even in good weather.

Drivers have been stuck in their cars in freezing weather for 20 hours or more.
Drivers have been stuck in their cars in freezing weather for 20 hours or more. (AP)

Hundreds of motorists have waited desperately for help after a winter storm snarled traffic in US state of Virginia and left some drivers stranded for nearly 24 hours in freezing temperatures along an impassable stretch of interstate south of the nation's capital.

Problems began on Monday morning when a truck jackknifed on Interstate 95, the main north-south highway along the East Coast, triggering a swift chain reaction as other vehicles lost control, state police said. 

Lanes in both directions became blocked across a 40-mile stretch of I-95 north of Richmond. As hours passed and night fell, motorists posted messages on social media about running out of fuel, food and water.

Meera Rao and her husband, Raghavendra, were driving home from visiting their daughter in North Carolina when they got stuck Monday evening. They were only 100 feet past an exit but could not move for roughly 16 hours.

"Not one police (officer) came in the 16 hours we were stuck," she said.

"No one came. It was just shocking. Being in the most advanced country in the world, no one knew how to even clear one lane for all of us to get out of that mess?"

There were no immediate reports of serious injuries or deaths.

Around daybreak, road crews began helping drivers get off "at any available interchange," the Virginia Department of Transportation tweeted.

Roadway expected to be cleared for morning rush hour

At a news conference, officials could not say how many miles of backup remained or how many cars were still stuck.

"I could not even imagine how many are out there," said Marcie Parker, a Virginia Department of Transportation engineer leading the effort to clear the interstate.

An Associated Press photographer who flew in a helicopter along a 50-mile stretch of interstate observed about a dozen clusters of stuck vehicles on Tuesday afternoon.

Parker said crews were trying to first clear vehicles that could move on their own. Then they would tow disabled or abandoned ones and plow, she said, adding that the roadway was expected to be cleared for the Wednesday morning rush hour.

People could be seen walking down traffic lanes still covered with ice and snow.

Families seek answers

Governor Ralph Northam said his team responded through the night by sending emergency messages to connect drivers with help and working with local officials to set up warming shelters as needed. Officials told reporters crews were helping distribute food, water and fuel.

People who were stranded overnight and their families lashed out at Northam on Twitter, asking why the Virginia National Guard was not deployed.

Northam said in an interview that he opted not to request National Guard help because the issue facing state crews was not a lack of manpower but the difficulty of getting workers and equipment through the snow and ice to where they needed to be. 

He said that effort was complicated by the disabled vehicles, freezing temperatures and ice.

The affected section of interstate was not pretreated, Parker said, because heavy rain preceded the snow, which fell at times as heavily as 2 inches an hour.

"That was entirely too much for us to keep up with," she said.

The storm also left passengers on an Amtrak train stranded in Virginia. Amtrak’s Crescent left New Orleans on Sunday on its way to New York and got stuck near Lynchburg on Monday morning, when downed trees blocked the tracks.

Up to 11 inches of snow fell in the area during Monday’s blizzard, according to the National Weather Service, and state police had warned people to avoid driving unless absolutely necessary, especially as colder nighttime temperatures set in.

Compounding the challenges, traffic cameras went offline as much of central Virginia lost power in the storm, the transportation department said.

READ MORE: Federal offices, schools shut as snow storm batters US east

Source: AP