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RCMP defend Highway 1 blizzard response; ask travellers to always be prepared for rough weather

Click to play video: 'Drivers question response to Trans-Canada closure' Drivers question response to Trans-Canada closure
WATCH: The Trans-Canada Highway's eastbound lanes near Canmore reopened Wednesday morning after being shut down for hours. Joel Senick explains why one motorist who was stranded there is taking issue with the emergency response – Oct 3, 2018

RCMP are defending the way they responded to the closure of Highway 1 west of Calgary following a snowstorm on Tuesday that left a number of motorists trapped on the highway for hours.

“Earlier in the day, we had released notices that motorists should be cautious,” RCMP Const. Mike Hibbs said. “If they didn’t have to travel… we advised that they should stay at home.”

RCMP said they started issuing warnings about extremely poor driving conditions at 11 a.m. Tuesday.

The bad weather combined with reports of collisions and vehicles in ditches forced the later closure of the highway Tuesday night near Lac Des Arc, resulting in a traffic jam.

WATCH: Staying safe in a snowstorm: Alberta Motor Association provides tips on being prepared for winter driving emergencies.

Click to play video: 'Staying safe in a snowstorm: Alberta Motor Association provides tips on being prepared for winter driving emergencies' Staying safe in a snowstorm: Alberta Motor Association provides tips on being prepared for winter driving emergencies
Staying safe in a snowstorm: Alberta Motor Association provides tips on being prepared for winter driving emergencies – Oct 3, 2018

Pictures surfacing on social media showed jack-knifed semis on snowy roads.

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“The ripple effect of braking and some vehicles getting stuck momentarily is being felt along the backlog,” one of many tweets read.

READ MORE: Drivers stranded for over 10 hours on Highway 1 near Canmore after massive snowfall

WATCH: Many Albertans face an unpleasant reality on Tuesday as thick snow blanketed parts of the province, as captured by these clips submitted to the Weather Network.

Click to play video: 'Compilation of viewer video after snow blankets parts of Alberta' Compilation of viewer video after snow blankets parts of Alberta
Compilation of viewer video after snow blankets parts of Alberta – Oct 3, 2018

Motorist Mackenzie Murphy said they ended up being trapped on the road for hours.

“We were lodged out there right in the middle of Canmore. I don’t know, honestly, where we were,” she said. “We were right in the centre of things right outside of Deadman’s Flats.

“We were out there for about nine or 10 hours before we decided to turn around.”

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Murphy said she thought someone was going to check on the people in the vehicles.

“We definitely thought someone was going to come around and let us know what was going on,” she said. “We had a lot of updates on Twitter and the outside world calling us to give us updates.”

Drivers were stranded for up to 11 hours on Highway 1 near Canmore after a massive snowfall on Tuesday. Jayme Doll/Global News

Christen Brechtel told Global News they were travelling from Pincher, B.C. when they came upon the accident at around 5:30 p.m.

“We had food and water and half a tank of gas.

“I had a blanket and a pillow for warmth as we could not leave our vehicles running for heat for fear of running out of gas,” she said.

“I’m not sure if the gentleman who tapped on our window was RCMP. He didn’t talk to us for long. I really think we were the second-to-last car to be told we could leave and where to go. Someone has to be last, right?”

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WATCH: Video sent to Global News shows a trumpet player making the most of traffic delays on Highway 1 west of Calgary during record-breaking snowfall.

Click to play video: 'Trumpet player soothes snow-delayed travellers in Alberta' Trumpet player soothes snow-delayed travellers in Alberta
Trumpet player soothes snow-delayed travellers in Alberta – Oct 2, 2018

Hibbs said officers were sent to check on the welfare of the motorists throughout the day, though he didn’t know how many were on scene at the time.

“We [did] send members in to check on the individuals to make sure there’s gas in the vehicle, if there’s any food that’s needed, warm clothes,” he said.

Taylor Wawryk and her mother left Banff at 11 a.m. to bring Taylor’s mother to the airport in Calgary. They didn’t realize that 14 hours later, they’d be heading back home again.

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Wawryk said she checked the weather and road reports before heading out and knew conditions weren’t ideal, but “just never expected something like this to happen.”

Near Dead Man’s Flats, their journey came to a halt and they were stuck. She said they kept trying to get information on what was happening, adding they’d heard rumblings of a jack-knifed semi and collisions, but didn’t know for sure what was causing their delays.

Wawryk’s mother’s flight had been cancelled, so they decided to turn around and head back to Banff, but with no food or water in the car and only about a quarter of a tank of gas, they realized soon they wouldn’t be getting far and they were starting to get scared.

“We called RCMP multiple times,” she said. “We called when we were running out of gas.

“They said, ‘Call when you’re just about out and we’ll figure something out.’ When we called again, we were told there was nothing they could do now.

“The lady told us, if your gas runs out, just huddle up. It was so mentally exhausting to hear. We were stranded out there with no one to help us at all. And it’s the Trans-Canada Highway.”

Canmore Collegiate was used as an emergency warming centre for stranded motorists. Joel Senick/Global News

Wawryk said by 12:30 a.m., after idling their car for hours and turning it on and off periodically to save gas, her mother and a few other drivers took matters into their own hands and started encouraging other drivers to move to the side of the road so they could try to cross to the westbound highway through an emergency median near Lac Des Arcs.

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“Westbound traffic was working. I don’t understand why no one could come down and just pull over,” she said. “I wouldn’t have cared to walk in the snow to get some water and some food.

“From 11 a.m. to about 1:30 a.m., there was no plows, no sanders, no emergency response. No police officers coming to help us.”

Wawryk said they finally got across the median at about 1 a.m. and started slowly heading back to Banff, but were saddened to be passing people still stranded trying to head east, and countless abandoned vehicles.

“I didn’t realize that little part of the highway could make that much of an impact on the day,” she said.

“We would have been still stuck out there today if it wasn’t for a few people coming together to move drivers to attempts to get through the ditch.

Truck driver Stacy Hill said he’s been driving on the highway for 48 years, both as an 18-wheel rig driver and as an avid skier.

“I have never seen the road conditions in that area as bad as they were yesterday. Just incredible,” Hill said Wednesday.

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“Traffic ground to a halt when a propane bottle — that’s what truckers call a propane truck — he spun out going up a hill by Exshaw where the rest area is. Then nobody could get going. Once you stopped, you were done, you could not get traction.”

WATCH: Community Reporter Deb Matejicka spoke to the experts to find out the most important steps motorists should take immediately following a collision.

Click to play video: 'Top 5 things you should do if you’re in a car crash' Top 5 things you should do if you’re in a car crash
Top 5 things you should do if you’re in a car crash – Oct 2, 2018

Hill added he had a box of apples in the truck and took them around to other stranded drivers.

“I was asking people how they’re doing, where they’re going. A lot of people were missing flights,” he said. “I got rid of all of my apples but I got to see an old friend that I hadn’t seen since 1976. That was pretty cool. I recognized him because he hadn’t changed but he didn’t recognize me ‘cause I had changed.”

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Hill said he’d move about 200 to 300 metres at a time every couple of hours.

“I don’t know whether [officials] were actually prepared this early in the year to do what they needed to do,” Hill said. “But, for the whole time I was sitting there, I only saw one snow plow going westbound and only one police officer in one car.”

In Canmore, a local high school was opened as an emergency warming centre for motorists trapped in the town.

“The emergency operations centre was full on, prepared for any change or twist,” Canmore Mayor John Borrowman said.

He said the centre served about 300 people during the incident.

Hibbs said that they did have enough officers in the area at the time, but said it was a busy day for first responders.

“Protocol would say we would check on them depending on the severity of what’s happening,” he said.

“We were monitoring the vehicles and the area making sure nobody else got in the area by manning the roadblocks. I guess members were out dealing with other matters as it was a very busy and rough day in that area,” he said.

READ MORE: QE2 re-opened after overnight shutdown because of deadly multi-vehicle crash

In a news release, RCMP said members responded to approximately 83 collisions in southern Alberta between 10:30 a.m. Tuesday and 10:30 a.m. Wednesday.

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“While the efforts of the patrolling members remained ongoing through the afternoon and evening, it was not possible to assist every motorist who became stranded,” the news release said.

It’s important that motorists be ready this time year, as weather can turn on a dime, Hibbs said.

“You never know when you’re going to be caught in any kind of situation. Summertime brings water and floods and wintertime brings snow and ice,” he said. “So we advise people to have warm clothing in the vehicle, carry some snacks with you, make sure your gas tanks are topped up as well.”

“When temperatures go below, people have to be more prepared,” he added.

RCMP said in a news release at around 12:30 p.m. Tuesday no injuries were reported among the motorists who had become stranded during the closure.

Highway 1 near Canmore, Alta., was re-opened after being closed for hours following a snowstorm on Oct. 2, 2018. Joel Senick/Global News

 

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