A freezing rain warning was issued for about four hours on Thursday for the Edmonton region, as overnight rainfall turned to deadly ice on area roads and highways.
Environment Canada said a band of freezing rain moved east through Edmonton and the surrounding areas, prompting a warning to be issued just after 6 a.m.
The warning was issued for the City of Edmonton and surrounding regions, and later expanded south to central Alberta. That set of warnings ended just after 10 a.m. as the system moved east.
As of noon, warnings remained in effect for just the northeastern edge of Alberta near Cold Lake and Fort McMurray.
Fatal collisions on area highways
As of 1:30 p.m., RCMP said 143 collisions were reported across Alberta, with most of them being concentrated in and around the Edmonton area.
Two of the collisions were fatal, another eight resulted in injuries and four were hit-and-run collisions.
RCMP said the majority of the crashes involved multiple vehicles, and Alberta Health Services said EMS responded to at least six motor vehicle collisions.
Fatal Ponoka collision
South of Edmonton, a crash on the QEII near Ponoka at around 6:15 a.m. claimed the life of one person, RCMP told Global News. The highway was shut down northbound and traffic was being rerouted at Ponoka to Highway 2a.
RCMP said the preliminary investigation indicates a semi jackknifed on the QEII and was subsequently struck by a second tractor trailer. A third semi was unable to stop and slid into to the crash scene.
At least one person was killed as a result of the collision, RCMP said.
Global News was able to count at least eight semis and passenger vehicles that were either involved in the crash or had hit the ditch near the scene.
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., the RCMP provided an update on the crash in which they said their preliminary investigation suggests at least seven semi-trucks and one SUV were involved.
Police also said one of the damaged tanker trucks was carrying ammonium nitrate. They said the substance was contained and “appropriate partners” are involved in the cleanup of the “volatile goods.”
According to the RCMP, the person killed in the collision was a 64-year-old man from Rimbey, Alta., who was driving one of the semi-trucks. Police said they expected traffic to be rerouted for “a couple of hours” still.
“The RCMP is requesting motorists take alternate routes and avoid the area of the collision,” the news release said. “Slow down and drive to the conditions as they can vary throughout the province.”
Just before 7:30 p.m., the RCMP issued another update and said the northbound lanes of Highway 2 by the Crandall overpass had been reopened.
Read more: 1 killed in massive tractor trailer pileup on QEII near Ponoka after morning freezing rain
One of the trailers was split in half from the impact of the crash and debris from its cargo covered the highway.
A Global News crew headed south on the QEII spotted at least 10 passenger vehicles in the ditch, mostly abandoned, between south Edmonton and the turn off to the airport in Leduc.
About halfway between Edmonton and Ponoka, a jackknifed semi was backing up traffic in the northbound lanes and a handful of other tractors trailers were spotted in the ditch, with a couple tipped on their side.
The Millet Fire Department said area roads Thursday morning turned to sheets of ice and the conditions on the QEII were the worst the department has seen in years.
Two killed in Gibbons collision
A fatal crash also occurred just before 7 a.m., north of Gibbons on Highway 28. RCMP said a semi tractor trailer and a pickup truck collided, killing two people in the smaller vehicle.
EMS transported two other patients in stable condition to hospital, Alberta Health Services said.
The highway was closed between Township Road 570 and 564, while a collision analyst investigated at scene.
A peace officer with Sturgeon County said the road would be closed until sometime Thursday afternoon.
Shortly after 6 p.m., the RCMP provided an update on the crash. They said the findings of a preliminary investigation suggest the pickup truck was headed north on Highway 28 when it lost control near Township Road 564 and went into the oncoming lane before being hit by a semi-truck headed south that was hauling nitrogen.
Upon impact, police said the pickup truck became engulfed in flames and came to a halt in the east ditch while the semi-truck came to a stop in the west ditch. Other people driving on the highway stopped to help and called 911. The people in the pickup truck were pronounced dead at the scene by paramedics while the semi-truck driver was not hurt.
According to the RCMP, Environment Canada was called and co-ordinated the cleanup of the semi-truck carrying nitrogen. They said while the cause of the collision remains under investigation, “icy road surface conditions are believed to be a contributing factor.”
The road has since been reopened.
The Highway 60 bridge across the North Saskatchewan River near Devon was closed for a few hours after a semi jackknifed in the northbound lanes across the river, RCMP said.
A driver told Global news the bridge further west near Genesee was also closed for a few hours.
Read more: What to do when waiting for a tow truck
Inside the city, the Edmonton Police Service said there were 59 collisions reported between 5:30 and 9:30 a.m. Of those, four resulted in injuries and one was a hit-and-run crash. No fatalities were reported within Edmonton, police said.
“As we head back into winter, drivers are reminded to slow down, allow greater stopping distance, and drive to the road conditions,” EPS said.
Edmonton transit and school divisions halt buses
Just after 7:30 a.m., the Edmonton Transit Service suspended bus service because of freezing rain conditions, although LRT service continued. On Demand Transit and DATS were also experiencing delays.
A spokesperson for the city said the Edmonton Transit Service has suspended service in the past on very rare occasions.
“Due to the extreme road conditions this morning, operator reports to our ETS Control Centre, and a high amount of reported road collisions, the decision was made to suspend service temporarily to keep staff and riders safe,” ETS communications advisor Olena Babiy said.
“Roads were icy and slippery for a prolonged period of time which increases the risk in our ability to deliver our service safely.”
Bus service resumed around 8:45 a.m., however ETS said the ripple effect from the morning would be felt for several hours.
“We anticipate system wide delays as buses will be moving at slower speeds due to road conditions,” the service said in a tweet.
Because of icy conditions across the city and traffic challenges, Babiy said ETS expects schedule challenges across the system.
She said the city dispatched staff and equipment to reduce slippery conditions on roads and sidewalks across the city.
“Trucks are distributing salt to areas such as bridges, hills, and the river valley, while working through arterials and collector roads that need immediate attention,” Babiy said.
“We ask Edmontonians to drive with care while our crews maintain the roadways as safely and quickly as possible.”
Many school divisions cancelled morning buses because of the freezing rain, including the Parkland School Division, Sturgeon Public Schools and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.
Planes grounded at the Edmonton airport
Flights were put on hold at the Edmonton International Airport because the runways were sheer ice, a Global News reporter at the airport learned.
Darrell Winwood with the airport said there were a handful of flight delays, but no outright cancellations.
He reminded passengers to check the airport’s website for their flight status before leaving home, as it’s updated real time.
Those headed out Thursday should give themselves extra time and drive carefully, Winwood added.
Freezing rain leads to slips and falls
Surfaces such as highways, roads, walkways and parking lots became icy and slippery as the rain fell, and people were advised to take extra care when walking or driving.
AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said EMS in Edmonton responded to 29 slips and falls — about three times the normal volume for an average morning.
Williamson said while the health authority doesn’t don’t break down slips and falls on ice from other slips and falls calls — such as tripping on stairs or falling out of bed — most of the incidents on Thursday were likely due to the weather conditions.
Read more: 5 things to do if you’re in a car crash
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