Civic Centre a calm in the storm
With Highway 1 closed from Calgary to Brooks, over 150 stranded drivers were brought to the Strathmore Civic Centre for shelter on Dec. 2. Winds reached 80 km/h, dropping visibility to less than 10 metres with roughly 30 centimeters of snow; many cars and transport trucks were trapped in ditches, stuck in impassable snow drafts, or wrecked in collisions.
“We are expecting another 90 to 100 vehicles,” said Linda Nelson, deputy director of emergency management for Strathmore on Tuesday afternoon. “Most of them have probably been on the highway overnight. From what I’ve been told, a plow is in the westbound lane east of town, and they’ve got miles and miles of vehicles behind them that they’re kind of convoying in right now.”
Many drivers were advised to stop at the nearest safe location and wait for the storm to pass – a wait that was thought to be anywhere from 12 to 24 hours. RCMP were on the scene: however, snow removal equipment could not be brought due to the severely unsafe conditions.
“We’ve had people come from Brooks and further. Most of them are coming from the east, I’m not sure how many are coming from the west,” Nelson said. “Some people went to hotels, when they had free rooms. We did check around for people, and tried to prioritize people with children or disabilities.”
Food, drinks and sleeping mats were available to those who were rescued to the Civic Centre. The shelter opened at 3 p.m. on Dec. 2, and continued to provide food, drinks, and sleeping mats well into the following day. Firefighters not only assisted at the Civic Centre, but were also rescuing people stranded in their vehicles off the highway in -30 degree weather (with wind-chill).
“Those guys have been absolutely amazing, absolutely awesome,” Nelson said. “The Strathmore Fire Department and the Strathmore Rural Fire Department – wow.”
Jan. 2011 was the last time Strathmore experienced a storm of this nature, Nelson mentioned.
“It was probably similar to this. I think the weather this time is worse,” she said.
Multiple vehicle collisions were reported in the Cluny area, approximately 15 km west of Gleichen, due to the heavy drifting and icy road conditions. A six-vehicle collision with three semi tractor-trailer units was reported, followed by a secondary collision involving three vehicles, in which two people suffered injuries. Other semi tractor-trailer accidents occurred at the Cluny Hill top and at Crowfoot Creek.
“I’ve heard that they’re trying to get the highways open, but we don’t know what’s going to happen,” Nelson said. “Everyone’s warm and comfortable here, so as long as we need to, we’ll stay open and keep people fed until they can go home.”