A spring blizzard that has been blasting through the Prairies is being blamed for a chaotic series of crashes south of Edmonton involving at least 100 vehicles.
About 22 people went to area hospitals, including one man with serious injuries.
Kerry Williamson, with Alberta Health Services, said Thursday that about 80 others were treated at the site. At first it was believed that even more people were hurt.
“The initial call came in that we had in 300 green patients, which are sort of minor to moderate injuries.”
Paramedics, EMS crews and firefighters trudged through the snow, going from vehicle to vehicle, to check on those inside, Williamson said.
They commandeered three Greyhound buses on the highway and used them as triage centres, he said. Police also escorted four Edmonton transit buses to the scene to provide shelter to motorists who were stranded.
“It’s obviously a mess out there.”
STARS air ambulance had to turn down requests to ferry patients because of the bad weather, said spokesman Cam Heke. The helicopters simply couldn’t get in the air.
RCMP closed a 60-kilometre stretch of Highway 2 — the main road between Edmonton and Calgary — and redirected traffic away from the scene. Mounties said the highway might open at 11 p.m. MDT, but said “treacherous” road conditions remained on the QE II south of Edmonton, all the way to Red Deer.
“Unless travel is absolutely critical, police request the public stay off all area highways.”
Const. Karolina Malik said the first crash happened just before lunch.
“And from that collision we ended up getting a chain reaction, so multiple other collisions occurred from there, due to the poor visibility and the icy roads.”
The crashes involved a large passenger bus and several semi-trucks.
A bus passenger tweeted a photo of the mayhem, calling it a massive pileup, but adding that everyone on the bus was all right.
“Hitchhiking my way to Edmonton via Wetaskiwin on country roads,” Derek Fildebrandt wrote in another tweet. “Found a Tim Hortons. There is a God.”
Robert Mitchell was on a Greyhound bus at the time.
“It was like a domino effect — one vehicle after another, just smashing, smashing, smashing until about 60-70 cars,” he told CTV Edmonton.
A cattle liner carrying 60 head of cattle was involved in the monstrous crash. Police said late Thursday that the cattle were being transferred to another cattle liner.
“The cattle have been in this liner since about noon today and finally they’ve gotten another liner there and they have to get these 60-worked up cattle out and into a new one,” said Cpl. Colette Zazalak.
Mounties in Saskatchewan also issued travel warnings and closed highways due to heavy snow, winds and icy conditions.
“There has been instances of people driving past these warnings getting stranded, even cases of barricades being moved and then continuing on past road closed signs,” said RCMP Regina Sgt. Doug Coleman.
“This storm is of such severity that it makes it difficult to impossible even for emergency personnel to be on the roads.”
Coleman said in a news release that people were stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway overnight Wednesday, and officers couldn’t get out to get them until Thursday morning.
Police said numerous motorists were stranded on Highway 17 north of Lloydminster on the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary.
Traffic in both directions was at a standstill because of a snowdrift 100 metres long and more than half a metre deep.
Highway crews attempted to remove the drift, but blowing snow just drifted over the road again.