Rick Habijanac has been driving trucks for 34 years but has never spent so much time at the side of the road as he did over the last 24 hours.
“I’ve been stuck in cities and towns for this long…two, three days at a time,” he told Global News from his truck, stuck in a long line of vehicles about half-a-kilometer outside Virden, Man. just before 12 p.m. MT. “But to be stuck on the side of the highway? This is the first time in all my years of driving trucks I’ve been stuck on the side of the highway for this long.”
A winter storm that moved in early Tuesday morning closed many roads, including Highway 1. The town of Virden was packed, forced to open its recreation centre for about 60 people to stay overnight Tuesday, RCMP said.
But Habijanac couldn’t even get into town. He left Calgary two days ago on the way to Winnipeg and was stuck in the line of cars for 24 hours, starting at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.
“Virden is swamped with cars and trucks. Nobody is allowed to go any farther. They have no idea as to when the highway is going to be open,” he said just before noon Wednesday.
The driver said he’s been watching movies and making good use of the fridge and microwave for food in his truck. He’s diabetic, which has garnered questions from family members.
“Because I’m diabetic, [they’ve been asking] ‘do you have enough food? Do you have enough food?’ I take my insulin and I have my food in the truck here and everything else.”
“All good so far, unless we do get stuck until tomorrow. Then we’re going to be starting to talk,” he laughed.
Habijanac said the wind is blowing fiercely and the highway is “sheer ice.” He said he’s been listening to the CB radio, hearing of closures both westbound and eastbound from Portage la Prairie to the Saskatchewan border.
“The police are driving up and down the roads here, running a fuel truck out here to fuel up anybody that needs fuel, sending out vehicles with sandwiches and pop and stuff in a little while here for the drivers.
“This is a bad scene right now.”
He said no one is getting out of their vehicles, just talking on the radio. Except one man—another trucker from Alberta who got into town and unhooked his trailer.
“He came out and brought as many people as he could coffee from Tim Hortons. Coffee and donuts. And wow—all of us have praised him because we just cannot get into town to get anything.”
Habijanac said just before noon M.T. all he could see from his rearview mirror were trucks.
“They told me yesterday ‘24 hours’ when I got stopped here and there seems to be no let-up at all. The wind has just not stopped at all out here. And just where the plow has gone through, it’s already starting to build back up again.”
He said he’s not sure when he’ll get to Winnipeg, or how the roads will be when he has to turn back for home. He’s glad RCMP have stopped cars to prevent accidents.
“Yesterday when I was coming up to this point, there was a couple of times when the wind had blown me and I had literally slid sideways on the ice. Because it’s just sheer ice. So it’s very dangerous.
“Just a road closure all just because of weather. Mother Nature doesn’t like us right now.”
Habijanac said Highway 1 had reopened where he’d been stuck as of 2:40 p.m. MT Wednesday.
“It’s not normal, but it does happen here in Manitoba,” RCMP spokesperson Rob Cyrenne said. “The highway along that stretch of the Prairies with blowing snow creates very hazardous driving conditions.”
For an updated list of highway closures in Manitoba you can head to the government website here.