A massive snowstorm ripped through Ontario and Quebec just days before the Christmas weekend, plunging communities into darkness and causing severe auto accidents on major roads and highways. Emergency crews were on standby on 24-hour rotations to respond to any issues that arose, and storm watches were in effect across Ontario.
“There is a severe storm affecting our community,” stated a news release from Russell Township issued December 23. “Our fire and infrastructure teams are responding to issues as quickly as possible, there are power lines, utility poles, and trees down in many areas of the community. We are working with local and regional emergency services to get these hazards cleared.”
Businesses closed and events were cancelled across the United Counties of Prescott and Russell. Hawkesbury cancelled a free movie night, Champlain Township closed the entirety of County Road 17 between Alfred-Plantagenet and Champlain, and several townships cancelled garbage collection that Friday.
Cleanup crews were worried about the rain that began falling on Christmas Day, rain that would freeze once temperatures dropped again. Even before ice was added into the mix, the storm was pushing cars offroad and into each other, leaving emergency responders scrambling to rescue drivers and families that were left adrift in snowbanks and slippery roads. High winds and blowing snow resulted in low visibility, prompting Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officers to close various stretches of the highway to traffic. Eventually, the entire section of Highway 417 between Ottawa and the Quebec border was closed to all traffic in both directions, and drivers that attempted to use the highway were detained.
“Highway 417 is closed in both directions from the Quebec border to Ottawa due to the poor weather and driving conditions,” the Ontario Provincial Police said in a tweet. “Highway 401 remains closed from Northumberland to the Quebec border. If you come across an on-ramp that is not blocked off, DO NOT enter the highway. If you are driving on other roads and get stuck/in a collision there may be a significant delay for emergency services to respond.”
Flights were grounded as soon as the weather picked up, and VIA Rail cancelled all trains in the Quebec-Windsor corridor as fallen trees, frozen switches, and broken-down trains made tracks impassable. In one notable case, passengers were stranded on a train near the city of Cobourg for nearly 20 hours as crews worked to clear the tracks enough for them to reach a station. Passengers with medical conditions were removed by ambulance shortly into the stop, but food and water quickly ran out onboard, leading to outcry from concerned family members.
Thankfully, there was plenty of warning for officials and emergency crews, so most of the damage was averted. Cleanup went smoothly after the weather settled, and a few days after things were back to normal.
“We are up a running at full capacity again,” said The Nation Mayor Francis Brière. “The staff deserve a huge hand of applause, they were fantastic during the storm.”