RCMP now say three adults are confirmed dead in a fiery crash on a stretch of highway in central Alberta on Tuesday.
The collision happened on Highway 9 between the hamlet of Chinook and village of Cereal, about 300 kilometres east of Calgary, at around 3:30 p.m.
RCMP said at least 10 vehicles were involved — seven passenger cars and three semi-trucks — and 13 people.
“One of the semi-trucks was hauling fuel and the fuel ignited, causing several vehicles to catch fire,” RCMP said in a Tuesday news release. “A second semi was hauling butane.”
RCMP said the collision area was “consumed with flames.”
Initially, paramedics said two people died in the collision, but on Wednesday morning, RCMP issued an updated news release saying three people were pronounced dead at the scene.
In addition, “two people were critically injured and transported via air ambulance to area hospitals,” RCMP stated. “Eight other people were injured and either treated on scene or transported to local hospitals.”
RCMP said the fire was put out by 8 p.m. and people involved in the crash were helped by the victim services unit and housed in the Oyen Legion.
The crash caused the temporary evacuation of Chinook.
The province issued an evacuation order just after 6 p.m., with an emergency alert warning residents to immediately travel to the nearby village of Youngstown, about 15 minutes away. The evacuation order was then lifted at 9 p.m.
Several RCMP detachments responded to the crash, including personnel from Coronation, Redcliffe and Hanna.
Meanwhile, paramedics responded from Medicine Hat, Drumheller, Hanna, Oyen and Three Hills.
Northwest Tank Lines responds to Tuesday’s fiery crash
One of the drivers injured in Tuesday’s crash works for Northwest Tank Lines and was hauling butane.
The company said its driver was stopped in a lineup when the pileup happened.
He has minor physical injuries, but the president of the company said his employee is mentally rattled.
“Our unit was stationary,” Michael Perry said. “It was in the construction lineup so we were just part of the unfortunate chain of events, but we did not precipitate the incident.
“We’re just so concerned about the people who were involved in the incident and hope that all of the injured people have a speedy recovery.”
Witness describes hearing explosion
Kevin Olsen, a farmer from Cereal, said he was hauling water to his property when he heard the crash.
“There was an explosion and then smoke… and then the smoke just started getting worse,” Olsen said.
“I kept hearing smaller explosions. I didn’t know what they were. I was thinking maybe it was gas tanks exploding or diesel… Something was on fire.”
He said traffic on Highway 9 was backed up due to road construction, saying it was being repaved.
“Something’s not right in terms of safety on the No. 9 highway for this paving job that’s been going on because it is the second accident in a couple weeks,” he said. “I was out when that happened, too. It’s sad that people are losing their lives… and they’re preventable, these accidents.”
WATCH BELOW: A community in rural Alberta is shaken after a deadly crash that killed three people. As Michael King reports, questions are being asked about how safe the highway is.
Alberta politicians respond to Alberta crash
Nate Horner, the MLA for Drumheller-Stettler, said while it’s troubling to hear of the scale of the crash, he was not going to speculate on the cause.
“It definitely makes you ask some questions,” he said Wednesday. “Anecdotally, speaking to the first responders, staff, it appears there was lots of signage, so until the RCMP investigation is done, you just want to appeal to all the drivers out there to be attentive during construction season.
“We’re always happy to see construction on our rural highways. We’re always in need of maintenance and repairs, so we need to ensure everyone is safe.”
Horner gave kudos to emergency crews who worked through the night.
WATCH BELOW: Video sent to Global News from Linda Nothing shows a plume of thick black smoke coming from the scene of a deadly crash on Highway 9 near Cereal, Alta. on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019.
Transportation Minister Ric McIver shared his condolences, saying his department will be looking at the road to see if anything can be improved.
“We’re concerned about the safety on every road in Alberta every single day,” he said.
“It’s interesting that both these collisions were part of the same construction site. We will look to see if there are patterns in between the first or second collision that might indicate some issue, some safety gap. But, in perspective, these collisions were 16 kilometres apart.”
Hwy. 9 reopens at Range Road 72
At about 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Highway 9 was reopened at Range Road 72.
Traffic on Highway 9 was being rerouted eastbound to Highway 884 and westbound to Highway 41 before it was reopened.
Hazmat teams attended the crash site to assist with the cleanup, a process RCMP said was extensive and took longer than expected because of the butane truck.
“The investigation into this collision remains a lengthy process, given the nature of the crash scene,” RCMP stated. “It is anticipated that it will take several weeks for the collision analyst to complete the investigation.”
– With files from Global News’ Phil Heidenreich, Michael King, Joel Senick and Christa Dao.