Quebec pounded by winter storm, premier acknowledges need for better response

Quebec pounded by winter storm

MONTREAL — Heavy snow continued to fall Wednesday as Quebec emergency crews struggled to cope with a fatal winter storm that paralyzed traffic and left hundreds of motorists stranded in their cars overnight.

Environment Canada said southwestern, central and eastern Quebec remained under storm warnings after more than 35 centimetres of snow were dumped on Montreal by early Wednesday morning.

One commuter, Sergio Barile, said he and his wife finally made it to their home in Montreal’s Saint-Laurent borough at 2 a.m. Wednesday after a nightmarish eight-hour commute with a toddler.

Barile said he left his home at 6:45 p.m. to help his wife, who was stuck on the road only about two kilometres from home with the couple’s 21-month-old daughter, Layla.

“We were one exit from the house but nothing was moving,” said Barile.

He said they were lucky both the couple’s vehicles had enough gas but the experience was very stressful.

“If it wasn’t for the baby we would have left the cars and gone (on foot)” he said.

Other areas of Quebec were also hit hard, with provincial police saying two men died after spending more than eight hours in their snow-buried vehicle in the Chaudiere-Appalaches region near Quebec City.

Police say a 911 call was made at about 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, at the height of the storm.

Police officers and ambulance officials were unable to get to the car because of the extreme weather conditions, said Lt. Martine Asselin.

A second rescue operation was attempted with the help of snowmobiles but the vehicles became stuck.

Searchers found the two corpses when they arrived at the scene at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

It was not clear whether the two men died because of the cold or from carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Most Montreal-area schools were shut Wednesday and the majority of flights out of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport were cancelled.

Premier Philippe Couillard acknowledged that emergency services were badly managed in the wake of the storm and called for a thorough analysis to ensure a better co-ordination and communication among emergency services.

His comments came after about 300 drivers were stranded in their cars overnight on Highway 13 and nearly 200 Montreal transit buses were stalled on city streets.

“It’s an exceptional situation but if there’s an exceptional situation there should be an exceptional response,” he said in Quebec City.

“It’s a major event. We have hundreds of people stalled on our highways not knowing what is happening.”I know that people are working hard on the ground but we have to take the lessons off of this situation and do much better next time.”

One Montrealer who spent the night in his vehicle on Highway 13 said officials made no effort to communicate with the stranded drivers.

“Not once did a vehicle pass by (on the other side of the highway) to ask about our situation or give any information as to how long we would be sitting here,” Jon Silver said in an interview.

Traffic woes were not confined to stalled vehicles.

Poor driving conditions resulted in several highway pileups, including two crashes a few kilometres apart that left at least three people with serious injuries.

The collisions and highway chaos were blamed on the same storm that buried much of southern and eastern Ontario on Tuesday morning.

In that province, one man died in a 30-vehicle pileup along Highway 401. The man was the driver of a truck containing the toxic substance fluorosilicic acid.

Provincial police identified the driver Wednesday as 45-year-old Ian Melville of Hamilton, Ont.

Both eastbound and westbound lanes of the highway were shut down because of the pileup and the cleanup of the chemical spill but were reopened to traffic late Wednesday.

 

Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press