In Saskatchewan, we’ve seen our fair share of winter storms and blizzards but this was one people will remember and talk about for the rest of their lives.
Tuesday marked the 10-year anniversary of the blizzard of 2007 that paralyzed our entire city. A wicked storm not like anything anyone had ever seen before and probably never will again.
The blizzard was so powerful, so relentless, that on Jan. 10, 2007 – our city came to a standstill.
“It was the most bizarre, overwhelming incident that the fire department – my days with the fire department – had to respond to.” Bob Fawcett, former fire chief of the Saskatoon Fire Department, said.
Although authorities said they were given warning of the weather system, they underestimated its magnitude.
“For us, it was absolute chaos and something we have never experienced since,” Troy Davies with MD Ambulance said.
At one point during the day, Davies said he found himself basically underneath an igloo of snow after attempting to pick up a supervisor at a location on 51 Street.
“A big truck drove by, had a big tow rope and luckily hooked up our ambulance and pulled us out, back to 51 Street and we just stayed on 51st.”
A total of four ambulances had to be pulled out that day as more than 35 centimetres of swirling snow swallowed the city whole.
“We didn’t have any major emergency calls come in that day, which was fortunate because we would have been definitely delayed,” Davies added.
It was cold that day as well. Flights were grounded, highways were closed, city transit cancelled routes and it took up to eight hours for some to drive home.
Stores like Costco and Canadian Tire at Preston Crossing became shelters for the stranded – some who were folks who just simply walked away from their vehicle as the blizzard pounded on.
“One of our biggest jobs was just driving around the city checking cars to make sure people were not still in the cars,” Fawcett said.
Fire, ambulance and police all accessed snowmobiles in order to get to those in need – that is if a Good Samaritan hadn’t already.
“I remember the next morning, driving in, and it was almost post-apocalyptic,” Alyson Edwards, with the Saskatoon Police Service, said.
“There were vehicles abandoned everywhere and not a person to be seen.”
According to officials at the time of the blizzard, they were reacting to it, not responding to it. In the last 10 years, dozens upon dozens of changes have been made to better prepare our city for future emergencies for years to come.
“Are we more prepared? Absolutely we’re more prepared,” Ray Unrau, director of emergency planning with the City of Saskatoon, said.
The weather event changed everything. Each organization assessed what went wrong and how to fix it. Police have added more 4X4 vehicles to their fleet, MD Ambulance purchased a mobile response unit – what appears to be gator utility vehicle with snow tracks – as a direct result of the blizzard.
An incident management system has been adopted by the city to handle catastrophes of all sorts.
“Our biggest improvements that we’ve made is that we have to react before an emergency hits, so we developed what we now call an EOC alert system,” Unrau said.
No matter how prepared authorities are, however, the citizens of Saskatoon play a huge role.
“We’ll never be prepared, if the citizens aren’t prepared,” Unrau added.
All the more reason to sign up for NotifyNow, a mass notification system that lets residents know what to do, where to go and what to expect when disaster strikes.