Altruistic locals a saving grace for stranded motorists
CTV.ca News Staff
Published Tuesday, December 14, 2010 9:35PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 3:26AM EDT
Officials believe all 237 motorists who got stranded on roadways in southern Ontario have been rescued by police convoys, military helicopters and altruistic locals, after a fierce snowstorm blocked their passage overnight.
Rescue crews continue to comb a stretch of Highway 402 between Sarnia and London as a precaution on Tuesday.
Many drivers were picked up by local farmers and snowmobilers and given shelter in farmhouses overnight and throughout the day.
"It's part of the Canadian way," local resident Brian Gare told CTV News Channel.
Gare shuttled five people to his home near Reece's Corner on Tuesday, some of whom had spent 14 hours stranded outdoors in freezing temperatures.
Nearly 300 motorists were left with nowhere to go Monday night, huddling for warmth in their cars as snow mounds grew and harsh winds blew outside.
The conditions were so bad that Emergency Management Ontario declared a "red alert" for the affected stretch of highway at about 9:45 p.m. Monday, which lasted about 12 hours.
Even police vehicles and snowmobiles couldn't make it down the road and snowplows were pulled off the road.
Bradley credited the assistance many local people gave to those on the highway.
"It's been heartening to see the response of local folks as well -- farmers and others -- who have assisted," Bradley said.
"It's good now that the weather has cleared, that the helicopters are able to start plucking people, literally, from the highway and taking them to safety."
Cheryl Stevenson's farmhouse is located near the hamlet of Inwood, not far from where hundreds of stranded motorists spent Monday night.
She and her husband plucked dozens of motorists from the frigid cold and invited them to stay at the farmhouse overnight. Thirty people slept in chairs, couches and on the floor.
She told CTV News that she fed her guests whatever she could find. Dinner consisted of leftover meatloaf, cheese and crackers and candy bars.
said that the hydro was knocked out at their house but a backup generator managed to keep the essentials running.
On Tuesday morning they pulled seven transport trucks out of the ditch with a farm backhoe.
The Bhushan family was among those who were left stranded overnight. The family of four had been on their way to Detroit to catch a flight to Mexico when their car was caught in the storm. Instead of resting on the beach, they were forced to wrap themselves in a blanket for warmth.
"We didn't know what to do," Suhani Bhushan, 19, told The Canadian Press after spending the night in the car with her parents and sister. "No one wanted to talk because it was so cold."
The Bhushan family was eventually found by rescuers overnight and shuttled to a Tim Hortons just east of Sarnia, where dozens of travellers found refuge.
On Tuesday, a combination of police snowmobiles, 4x4 vehicles and even some Canadian Forces helicopters were used to get the stranded motorists off the road and into warming centres.
The East Christian Reformed Church in Strathroy, Ont., played the part of shelter throughout the day for 50 people who were able to get off the highway and make it into town.
"It was terrifying. It really was. We were very low on fuel and they kept talking on the radio about hypothermia and the fact that we may be out there all night," Kathy Rolls told CTV News from the church where she and her husband had been taking refuge since 7 p.m. Monday night.
Officials kept Hwy. 402 closed on Tuesday, burdened by fears of the same heavy snowfall and winds that had closed it overnight.
Officials were warning drivers not to ignore the signs telling them to stay off the overrun highway.
Rescue operations had been complicated by winds and blowing snow through the day.
There were no reports of injuries or fatalities among the stranded motorists who spent a night on the highway.
Farmer John Noorloos owns a farm that sits adjacent to the affected stretch of highway.
In a telephone interview, Noorloos told CTV News Channel that when he looked out his window on Monday night he could see "people standing still in their vehicles on the road."
He used his own vehicles to help five stranded people get to where "they need to be."
For the people on the highway, the night in the snowstorm was an experience they won't soon forget.
Colin Stewart of Tottenham, Ont., said the conditions got gradually worse until a series of turned-over tractor-trailers brought the highway to a standstill.
For 25 hours, Stewart was stuck in his car, as he used his BlackBerry to call family and update his Facebook page.
"I've got about a quarter tank of gas I've turned on and off. I've got a nice big blanket I wrapped myself in," said Stewart, who described the experience as being more boring than scary.
"What can I do? I'm not impressed -- it's Canada, it's a blue sky, I think there's a way to get out of here."
Brandon Junkin of Whitby, Ont., spent the night alone in his pickup truck on Highway 402.
He told CTV News Channel that local municipal workers helped pull his truck out of a snowdrift on Tuesday morning so that he could make his way to a gas station to fill up his gas tank.
Overnight, Junkin said he wrapped himself in an emergency blanket "and kind of stayed warm and just kept talking to myself and kind of hoped that someone was going to come sooner or later."
With reports from CTV Toronto and files from The Canadian Press