After getting let off work early because of the weather, Tiffany Green and her twin sister, Tara, decided to drive together in her Honda Civic from Brandon back home to Alexander.
They checked the road conditions — which showed the highways still open — and started driving, Green said.
They had no idea it would take them about 15 hours to get home.
"We just wanted to go home," Green said. "We were getting sore from sitting in the car for that many hours and we were tired. We couldn’t sleep because of the cold, so it was just emotionally draining to be sitting there, not knowing."
The sisters were one of approximately 78 vehicles stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway, backed up approximately seven kilometres behind a collision when the highway was closed.
Travellers banded together into the evening — sharing snacks, information and even the warmth of their cars when others were running out of gas, Green said.
"The longer we were sitting there, the snow was piling up … between each car there were drifts starting and the cars couldn’t make it through the drifts," Green said. "It was just so wet and cold and the wind was so strong, for the most part people were just trying to stay warm."
A couple of snowmobilers checking on the stranded drivers eventually managed to get Green and a few other cars turned around and back to Alexander through back roads.
"We drove really slow and had some trucks along the way telling us how much further we had to go," Green said. "We were really grateful for all the kind souls who helped us from the community. They were so great in making sure everyone was taken care of."
As the blizzard raged on yesterday, firefighters from the Rural Municipality of Whitehead and volunteers from the community worked tirelessly bringing stranded people back to the Alexander School gymnasium — some in their own vehicles and others by snowmobile, said firefighter Dave Matthews.
"We first got called out to this at 4:20 p.m. (Monday) afternoon, not sure what time we got back but it was very bad, the visibility was terrible."
About 17 firefighters and more volunteers from the town worked throughout the night and into Tuesday to get people out of their cars to shelter, Matthews said.
"Everybody’s pulling together. There is so much food at the school it’s incredible," Matthews said. "Coffee is flowing like water, (people) are tired but happy to have somewhere warm and have some food."
Blue Hills RCMP Staff Sgt. Clint Wikander said officers have also been working around the clock to get to people stranded on the highways, adding many have abandoned their cars to get to safety.
"Cars are all over the highway. It’s pretty much turned into a great big parking lot," Wikander said. "Once it clears, we’ll talk to the department of highways. They’ll assess the roads and get the plows out if need be, once we can say visibility is good and road conditions are good enough to drive on then we will get the roads back open. The real tough part is we have all these cars piled up and the snow is drifting all around and over them — it’s going to take a while to clean up that mess."
Although there were a few collisions on the roads, Wikander said there were no serious injuries.
Winds reached up to 90 kilometres per hour at times during the two-day storm, which — combined with a dump of more than 20 centimetres of snow— created snow drifts as high four to five feet in some areas.
Approximately 550 people were without power in Westman as of Tuesday evening, according to Manitoba Hydro, with many crews unable to respond due to closed roads and poor visibility.
Many highways in the Westman area also remained closed on Tuesday — including the Trans-Canada Highway from the Saskatchewan border to Headingley, Highway 10 from the U.S. border to Dauphin, and Highway 2 from the Saskatchewan border to Rathwell.
For up-to-date information on road closures, visit Manitoba511.ca
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