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Stranded motorists rescued near Sarnia, Ontario

Military assists in the rescue of stranded motorists on Highway 402. Click the image for a look at the dangerous conditions.
Military assists in the rescue of stranded motorists on Highway 402. Click the image for a look at the dangerous conditions.

Andrea Stockton, staff writer

December 14, 2010 — Heavy snow and fierce winds that lead to complete whiteouts on Highway 402 near Sarnia, left hundreds of motorists stranded Monday night and into Tuesday.

Even snow plows couldn't make it through the treacherous conditions
Even snow plows couldn't make it through the treacherous conditions

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.

Police say at one point, hundreds of drivers were left stranded. Emergency Management Ontario also issued a “red alert” for the area from Sarnia to London because heavy snowfall was causing zero visibility. The red alert was dropped by Tuesday morning.

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. They checked all vehicles and removed any passengers. 200 tractor trailers and 124 cars were checked and 237 people were rescued from these vehicles. There were some vehicles left abandoned.

The Ontario Provincial Police plans to continue to patrol Highway 402 and surrounding areas to ensure that no one has been left behind. The OPP is encouraging drivers in the region to avoid travel at all costs until conditions improve. They also recommend packing a survival kit for the winter months ahead.

Additional snowfall amounts expected through Wednesday
Additional snowfall amounts expected through Wednesday

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.

According to The Weather Network's meteorologist Patrick Cool, the squalls are starting to taper.

“What we're going to see tonight [Tuesday] is a shift to westerly winds that's going to push those squalls further to the east and north,” says Cool. “It's going to take London and Strathroy out of the picture as well as the GTA, but maybe Orangeville, Mount Forest, Wingham area, Kincardine will now be under the gun. But the good news is the cold air is somewhat subsiding so the strength of those squalls are diminishing.”

Over the weekend, a low pressure system from the United States swept over Ontario and Quebec. It prompted snowfall, freezing rain and flash freeze warnings across the provinces. That system is now bringing stormy weather to the Maritimes.

To stay up-to-date on current weather conditions in Sarnia, Ontario, 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 Lyndsay Morrison

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