Canadian military rescues snowbound motorists


Thu, Dec 16, 2010 - Page 7

Canada on Tuesday dispatched its military to help rescue more than 200 motorists stranded in a snow storm in the province of Ontario, as a deep freeze gripped the region.

The Ontario Provincial Police said in a statement that a state of emergency had been declared in Lambton County, southwest of Toronto, where hundreds of vehicles became trapped in the snow along a stretch of highway between London and Sarnia.

Officials said 237 people were rescued. They included at least 66 rescued by military helicopters, a Canadian defense ministry spokesman said.

“All motorists on Highway 402 have been evacuated, but abandoned vehicles are still on the highway. The secondary roads are now being searched for any stranded motorists,” defense spokesman Jay Paxton said.

The Weather Office warned of a “snow squall” that created conditions of zero visibility, with wind chill values of minus 20?C.

In some areas, snow was reportedly piled up 2m high.

Despite the extreme conditions, no deaths or serious injuries have been reported.

Police used snowmobiles and four-wheel drive vehicles to locate and extract stranded people from the highway, and the military sent three Griffon helicopters to ferry people from their vehicles to safety.

A Hercules aircraft was also combing the area for motorists trapped overnight in drifting snow and biting cold. And some area farmers were said to be using tractors to drag cars out of ditches.

Canadian Defense Minister Peter MacKay said search and rescue personnel aboard the Griffon helicopters would lower a basket onto the highway and carry motorists to a makeshift “warming area,” where he said they were able to “get coffee, warm food, protection and then make their way home.”

“For someone to be trapped in their vehicle, in some cases for 20 hours, that’s very serious, and these are extreme weather conditions,” MacKay said. “It’s cold. If their vehicle was not running, then clearly that would be a very dangerous situation.”

Many of the stranded have been using cellphones to call for help, “indicate their whereabouts [and] indicate their well-being. That has made rescue efforts a little easier,” he said.

In a few cases, people refused to leave their vehicles, preferring to wait for plows to clear the roads.

MacKay said treacherous conditions, particularly high winds, were a concern for rescuers.