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Another winter storm strands dozens of drivers

By: Matt Durnan

  |  Posted: Thursday, Jan 02, 2014 11:53 am

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A flash freeze and intense winds wreaked havoc on Highway 2 between Airdrie and Didsbury on Dec. 27, stranding as many as 70 vehicles.

Wind gusts up to 90 km/h whipped snow across the roads, creating near zero visibility for motorists. The Airdrie RCMP received 15 calls for service during the height of the storm between 8 p.m. and midnight, according to Airdrie Integrated Traffic Unit (ITU) Cpl. Darrin Turnbull.

“Eight of the calls were for people who were stranded and seven were for actual motor vehicle collisions,” said Turnbull.

“Thankfully, none of the collisions resulted in injuries, we’re lucky for that.”

Turnbull estimates that anywhere between 50 and 70 vehicles were stranded on the side of Highway 2 and other rural highways near Airdrie.

“The roads weren’t impassable, but because the temperature dropped off so quickly, it got very slippery and the blowing snow made visibility the biggest issue,” he said.

One Airdrie resident whose two daughters were caught in the storm, called it a parents’ worst nightmare.

“Two daughters in separate vehicles, driving on Deerfoot in the middle of white-out blizzard and hubby holding a phone to both ears with panicked girls on the end of each line, trying to help guide them home,” said Heather Bastarache Doyle.

(It’s a) parents dream, to have both girls home safe and sound where they belong.”

Not all motorists were fortunate enough to have a navigator on the other end of a phone line, and many had to be pulled off the road by either RCMP or the Rocky View Fire Department.

The Balzac fire station took in more than 20 people whose cars had become stuck, or who had pulled over because of lack of visibility. The fire department escorted the vehicles into the station with the use of spotlights, and some motorists were taken back to the station in fire trucks.

“Our fire station in Balzac is manned 24 hours a day and our prime focus is public safety,” said Dax Huba, District Chief with Rocky View Fire Department. “It was not safe for people to be out on the roads or to be outside of their vehicles, it was just way too cold and windy.”

The fire station is equipped to take in those in need for up to five hours or overnight without having to put together a full emergency relief station.

“We have the ability to be an immediate shelter where we have washrooms, common areas for people to sit, and we can provide them with hot chocolate or tea and make sure they’re comfortable,” said Huba.

The weather eased significantly at 2 a.m., according to Huba, and anyone who felt comfortable enough to drive was sent on their way.

Vehicles that had been left stranded on the sides of the road were marked with police caution tape to signify that the vehicle had been checked and there were no motorists inside.

Turnbull commended the work of all those involved in assisting motorists throughout the storm.

“All officers and firefighters deserve recognition for their work,” said Turnbull.

“It’s risky for all of us to be out there and we have to deal with the weather conditions as well and I’m proud of the work we did.”


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