Five Worst Traffic Jams Ever

Two inches of snow paralyzed Atlanta but that's nothing compared to bumper-to-bumper catastrophes in Moscow, Chicago, and elsewhere.

John Gress/Reuters,© John Gress / Reuters

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Two inches of snow brought Atlanta to its knees last night, and nowhere was the paralysis more evident than the city’s highways. Children were stranded on school buses overnight and motorists abandoned their cars to find shelter in the aisles of CVS pharmacies and Home Depots. But Atlanta’s traffic jam is far from the worst in the world. Take a slow crawl through some of the more terrible pileups of this century.   

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Sao Paulo, Brazil, 2013

Drivers in Brazil’s city of 20 million are used to the sea of red taillights lining their daily commutes. The rich have even taken to helicopters to avoid the gridlock. But November brought a special kind of jam – the worst in the city’s history. Traffic stretched 192 miles, on over a third of Sao Paulo’s roads.

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Moscow, Russia, 2012

Moscow was hit with the heaviest November snowstorm in half a century in 2012, bringing major chaos to its roads. Vehicles moved at a snail’s pace for 125 miles. Drivers were stranded for up to three days, and road-side businesses looking to profit, upped their prices. The situation got so dire, the government sent aid in the form of food, warming stations, and even a psychological support hotline for motorists having trouble dealing with the stress of it all. 

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Chicago, Illinois, 2011

The North American Blizzard of 2011 which stretched from New Mexico to Maine dumped more than 20 inches of snow on Chicago city streets, burying hundreds of cars and stranding their motorists. Somewhere between 900 and 1,500 cars were trapped on Lake Shore Drive for up to 12 hours. 

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Beijing, China, 2010

Bumper-to-bumper is a familiar position for daily commuters in Beijing, a city with over 5 million cars on its roads. Ironically, construction to manage this congestion was the main culprit for the capital’s epic 2010 pileup that stretched 75 miles and left around 10,000 motorists with nowhere to go for eleven days. Accidents and broken down vehicles added to the mess. 

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Houston, Texas, 2005

With the destructive force of Hurricane Katrina still fresh in their minds, 2.5 million Texans heeded the local government’s call to evacuate before Hurricane Rita bore down. That mass exodus created a traffic jam 100 miles long, and stranded many motorists in the sweltering heat just as the storm was set to hit. Houston’s mayor conceded he hadn’t expected the rush and called for military help, noting that "being on the highway is a deathtrap.” Texas governor Rick Perry sent gas by way of FEMA to get cars on the road again and got creative by reversing traffic on inbound lanes to break up the bottle neck.