As a severe winter storm brought Saskatoon area highways to a halt, stranded drivers sought safety in areas outside the city.
An Alberta Clipper storm system ripped over the province on Monday afternoon, bringing with it high wind gusts of over 80 kilometers per hour and blinding snow.
Travellers packed the community centre in Langham, some 30 kilometers northwest of Saskatoon, along Highway 16.
Darcy Wiebe, the town’s administrative assistant, estimates that up to 50 individuals were sheltering at the center.
“We received visitors from all around the country. We ordered pizza from a local pizzeria just to feed everyone “According to Wiebe, town councillors also brought food to the community center.
According to Wiebe, the effort was coordinated by the town’s fire department after a jackknifed semi stopped down the freeway.
“If anyone needed anything, if anyone needed us to contact loved ones,” Wiebe said.
Wiebe claimed she had problems finding a place to stop to pick up the town’s order from Great Prairie Pizza since there were so many cars parked at Lagham’s Petro-Canada station.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen the town like this,” Wiebe added.
According to Wiebe, the town’s sports bar 50 Shots opened its doors to storm-stricken travelers, and the gas store stayed open late as well.
Around 100 semi-trucks crammed into Langham to wait out the storm, according to Langham fire chief Bill McCombs.
After the semi and other cars became “tangled up” just before 5 p.m., he added, the town’s fire department opted to stop the eastbound lanes on Highway 16.
“We quickly realized you couldn’t see anything, so we shut down the roadway to keep people from crashing into each other’s backs,” McCombs explained.
“There were no tow trucks available, no RCMP officers available, no ambulances available,” McCombs added.
The agency collaborated with a lone RCMP constable who was making treks out into the blizzard to rescue trapped drivers.
McCombs added, “He pretty much stayed on Highway 16 evening just trying to deal with folks and automobiles in the ditch and stuff.”
Between 200 and 300 people waited out the storm in Langham, a town of 1,500, according to McCombs, with many sleeping in their cars and occasionally coming into the community center for coffee or a food.
When the highway reopened at 10:30 p.m., drivers were able to resume their journey when a wrecker was able to move the semi.
The town’s school in Hague, along Highway 11, took in dozens of travelers seeking refuge from the storm, with residents bringing beds, blankets, and food.
Brad Nichol, the learning superintendent for the Prairie Spirit School Division, was delayed in town on his way home from Warman and was waiting out the storm.
“As we looked around the restaurant, we noticed some families who appeared to be a little tired and might need a break.” Nichol remarked.
“They just continued coming all night,” says the narrator. “I kept going back to the gas station, which is a large, bright light on the highway that people were driving off into, and simply make the announcement again, and people would come.”
RCMP dropped off the final stranded travellers at the school about 1:30 a.m.
“They’d been basically alone on the roadway for almost seven hours in the dark in a blizzard,” Nichol added.
Around 15 people were found trapped in the storm by RCMP and were taken in by The Zone, a youth center in town.
“We had some teens come in and they were in tears, they were pretty shaken up,” said Shelby Goertzen, the center’s director.
At first, the youth center didn’t have anything to give travelers who had been delayed on the road for hours other than chocolate bars, but that quickly changed.
“I put out a call, and it’s a Mennonite community, after all… As a result, we had a variety of muffins, homemade pizza pockets, and taco salad, as if it were a feast “According to Goertzen.
Police began picking people up from the center after the storm passed at 2 a.m., according to Goertzen.
“Because it was safe to proceed with caution, the RCMP began pushing people back onto the roads. As a result, they attempted to get as many capable automobiles back on the road as possible.”