Traffic on Hwy 1. Photo by Julie MacNeil
04 Oct 2018

Stuck in a highway closure during snowstorm for 12 hours - drivers accuse first responders for lack of communication

Extrication & New Technology
Communication Group
Current Affairs in Fire & Rescue
Fire & Rescue World News
Natural Disasters
Technology in Fire & Rescue
Traffic Accidents
The early snowfall on Highway 1 through the Canadian Rocky Mountains caused traffic to stand still for over 12 hours on Tuesday, reports the CBC news network.  Hungry and cold, many motorists were fearing for their lives and now accuse the rescue service and the police for neglecting to inform when the highway was going to open again. Photo by Julie McNeal

Traffic on eastbound Highway 1 near Canmore was at a standstill on Tuesday. Some motorists, like Julie McNeil and Alex Johnson, say they were stranded for more than 12 hours and received no helpful information from either the RCMP or Alberta Transportation's @511Alberta. Photo by Julie MacNeil.
 

The early snowfall on Highway 1 through the Canadian Rocky Mountains caused traffic to stand still for over 12 hours on Tuesday, reports the CBC news network.  Hungry and cold, many motorists were fearing for their lives and now accuse the rescue service and the police for neglecting to inform when the highway was going to open again.

 

The video above is unrelated to this particular incident but gives you an idea of what conditions can be like by showing driving through various parts of this scenic but narrow and often dangerous highway though the Rocky Mountains.

 

Motorists stranded for hours on Highway 1, east of Canmore near Lac des Arcs, due to Tuesday's record snowfall say they're angry that they didn't receive frequent communication from Alberta Transportation and the RCMP (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) about the travel conditions.

They say a lack of information led to an exhausting, confusing, frustrating and traumatic night before the route was reopened late in the morning on Wednesday.

 

Drivers were warned but used the dangerous highway anyway

The RCMP, for its part, said motorists failed to listen several warnings about poor winter driving conditions. The highway through the mountains is also generally known to be dangerous at this time of year, and motorists are always advised to travel with blankets, food, water and plenty of extra fuel in case of emergencies.

Richard Stech, his wife, their two sons and their three dogs were stuck on Highway 1 for 13 hours. The family was heading back from Vancouver after visiting relatives.

"The lack of communication was a big thing," said Stech, 55.

The Stech family stayed Monday night in Golden, B.C., and then ventured out Tuesday to head home to Calgary. They made it to east of Canmore near Deadman's Flats, but then traffic came to a standstill, from 12:30 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. MT on Wednesday.

 

No police activity on the highway

"There was no police activity as far as letting us know what was going on," Stech said.

He said the family only had a few snacks and he was worried his SUV would run out of gas, so he was unable to keep the engine running to stay warm.

"We sat there cold, hungry, with no communication from any of the emergency services saying how long this was going to be. That's what made me really mad, how they handled this situation."

Stech said he called the Canmore detachment of the RCMP and was told to "'sit tight and conserve your fuel.'"

There was a 12-hour gap between the first, official RCMP warning about driving conditions and the closure of the highway at Lac des Arcs, 17 kilometres east of Canmore.

 

Truckers angry too

Several commercial truck drivers who were stranded say they were also left in the dark as to when traffic would start moving again.

"No idea, nobody is telling you anything," said Wayne Reicker on Wednesday morning. He was stuck in the long line of traffic for nine hours.

"We're paid by the mile. If we don't move, we don't get paid," said Radek Honjo, another trucker who was trying to make his way back to Calgary.

 

A tweet with a map of the effected area from the Alberta road information agency 511.

A tweet with a map of the effected area from the Alberta road information agency 511.

 

Government promising review

Alberta Transportation said "the maintenance response" to the weather event will be reviewed along with "an assessment of communications through 511, in conjunction with our Emergency Management Program," said spokesperson Anna Neale.

"We understand how difficult this situation was for drivers. Like most weather events, this was a very fluid situation across the region. 511 Alberta is updated frequently, in real time, as weather and road conditions change. 511 operators were actively responding with the best information they had available as this situation evolved," she said in an email to CBC News.