Highway 13 southbound, between Highway 20 and Highway 40 in the West Island, was closed Tuesday night after a massive pileup stranded 300 vehicles.
According to the Sûreté du Québec (SQ), it was a jackknifed tractor-trailer that set off the chain of events.
The stretch of highway was closed at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night.
According to SQ spokesperson Stéphane Tremblay, 300 cars were stranded on the highway after the pileup occurred.
An operation to clear the area began early Wednesday morning.
The SQ suggested that commuters avoid the area at all costs.
By late Wednesday morning, all cars had been cleared from the road but the highway remained closed for salting operations.
George Tylpaldos told Global News he became stuck after slowing down on the road.
“Once you slow down, the snow sucks you in… Nowhere to go,” he said.
Tylpaldos relied on what was in his lunchbox to get him through the night.
“Sometimes to keep the appetite down we chewed gum,” he said.
Typaldos spent 13 hours in his car before a tow truck pulled him out at 7 a.m.
As news of the stranded motorists’ plight began to spread, so too did questions about the lack of a coordinated effort to rescue them.
Provincial police reportedly asked for assistance at 2:15 a.m. but failed to follow up, according to Ian Ritchie, chief of operations for the Montreal fire department.
The fire department then headed out on its own to help those stuck on the road.
The Transport Ministry (MTQ) said the clearing operation was a shared responsibility among the fire department, the Sûreté du Québec and the ministry.
In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre detailed the sequence of events as they unfolded.
At 11:30 p.m., the city’s Civil Security held an emergency conference call. During that call, the Transport Ministry mentioned the closing of Highway 13, but failed to mention that people were stranded on the highway.
The ministry didn’t participate in a second conference call and it wasn’t before 3:30 a.m. that the fire department was made aware that citizens were in need of rescue.
Coderre intends on addressing the issue at a press conference scheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
Premier Philippe Couillard weighed in, calling it an exceptional situation, but added that wasn’t an excuse for the lack of a coordinated response.
“It’s an exceptional situation but with an exceptional situation there should clearly be an exceptional response,” he said. “It’s a major event.”
“The fact that things don’t happen very often doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be better prepared when they do happen… We have to take the lessons from this now and do better — much better — next time around.”
Motorists who were towed were initially issued tickets, but Quebec’s Transport Minister, Laurent Lessard announced Wednesday afternoon that they would be refunded.
–With files from Global’s Billy Shields