Matt Casey, staff writer
December 15, 2010 — Motorists stranded on Highway 402 Monday night have all been rescued, but now emergency officials look to clear the highway of hundreds of abandonned vehicles.
Winter has certainly arrived to areas in southwestern Ontario. An intense snowstorm has dropped over 40 cm of snow since Sunday and winds gusting to 70 km/h have caused complete whiteout conditions on Highway 402 near Sarnia.That forced authorities to issue a state of emergency Monday night. At one point, hundreds of drivers were left stranded.
Police relied on snowmobiles and 4 x 4 vehicles to get through the dangerous conditions and military helicopters were sent to the area to provide assistance with rescue efforts as well. As of Tuesday evening, emergency officials believed that everyone stranded on the snow-covered highway had been saved. Police are continuing to patrol the area to make sure that no one has been left behind. In all, 237 people were rescued from the highway.
Efforts are now being focused on clearing the highway of the hundreds of abandoned vehicles. A total of 200 tractor trailers and just over 120 cars were left stuck in deep snow. A fleet of tow trucks has been dispatched to the area to start the clean-up efforts, which officials say could take quite a bit of time.
The Ontario Provincial Police are still urging drivers in the region to avoid any unnecessary travelling.
“Plows have been working around the clock but still many of the roadways, including the 402, some portions are impassable and surrounding roads are still treacherous,” says Constable Liz Melvin of the London OPP.
With all of these wintery road conditions, police also recommend packing a survival kit for the winter months ahead.
Camera Operator Mark Rozitas has been in the thick of the storm, and was there for the search and rescue Monday night.
“I went with a farmer on a large tractor and we were able to get through the drifts and pull some people out. I gave all the spare fuel I had in the red can to one lady who had no cell phone and very little fuel left,”, Rozitas told The Weather Network. “We had extremely high wind, heavy snow, blizzard conditions, simply could not see what side of the road you were on, many people stuck in cars and trucks.”
While this was a trying time for stranded motorists and rescue teams, it will certainly be remembered as a storm that brought the community together. Police say drivers used a buddy system to band together and help save fuel. Warming centres were also opened in Wyoming, Watford, Forest and Warwick to provide shelter and food for anyone near the affected area.
Heavy snow has also been piling up in London. Since 7 p.m. on Tuesday the city has seen over 35 cm. That forced the closure of several schools in the area including The University of Western Ontario and Fanshawe College Wednesday. Conditions are slowly expected to improve towards the end of the week, but for now squalls are persisting over the region.
“Squalls look to continue throughout the day today [Wednesday] and into tomorrow before finally shifting further north Friday,” explains Patrick Cool, a meteorologist at The Weather Network.
To stay up-to-date on current weather conditions in Sarnia, Ontario,and London be sure to check the local forecast. You can also tune in to The Weather Network on TV for coverage of the latest storms.
With files from Andrea Stockton and Lyndsay Morrison