Multiple multi-vehicle collisions were found along a stretch of Highway 2 north of Ponoka, Alta., Saturday, leaving many drivers incapacitated.
“Buses were provided to shuttle people to the Calnash Ag Event Centre in the small town,” read a statement from the Town of Ponoka posted on Facebook.
Several vehicles collided into a semi-truck on the Queen Elizabeth 2 Highway and many others ended up in the ditch and scattered across the northbound lanes. Alberta RCMP said there were more than 50 vehicles involved in collisions Saturday along this stretch — the final numbers are still being tallied.
Mark Zalasky was driving one of the vehicles that “slammed” into the back of the semi.
“I knew I was going to need a pull out with a tow truck but I was one of the lucky ones,” Zalasky recalled.
He and his wife were picked up by one of the school buses and shuttled to the recreation centre where there were volunteers to help with police forms, coffee, sandwiches and more food.
“It was unbelievable the hospitality that was offered up,” he said. “Tonight we are safe, warm and we will be able to sleep here and wait for the morning. I am so proud and extremely thankful for the love and support that has been given to all the people here tonight.”
“There’s just crashes everywhere,” said Aiden Neth in a video sent to Global News.
The passenger in a vehicle headed south on the highway, Neth filmed the long line of traffic in the northbound lanes. Ambulances drove slowly beside them in the centre lane. The footage showed multi-vehicle pileups, trucks flipped over in the centre median and the semi-truck with multiple vehicles crashed into its backside.
In the nearly four-minute-long video, there is only a break in traffic at the very end when the long line seems to dissipate.
The Sherwood Park Crusaders hockey team was on the road near Ponoka as well, coming home from a game when, about 10 kilometres north of Ponoka, the weather “changed in a hurry” and visibility became poor.
“Our bus driver did a fantastic job of keeping us safe,” said the team’s head coach, Evan McFeeters. “He told everyone to hold on, and asked the guys to sit tight. He bobbed and weaved through a pretty massive pile up in front of us — semis were jackknifing and cars were bailing off the road.”
The team ended up in the ditch, but upright and safe until they were picked up by the buses that RCMP sent out to bring people back to the ag centre.
“It was the right thing to do,” said Sandra Lund, the chief administrative officer of the Town of Ponoka, about opening the ag centre for emergency shelter and organizing the bus shuttle service. The town also has a responsibility under the town’s emergency act to provide emergency supports to those in need, she said.
About 77 people registered at the centre on Saturday, she said. The emergency response centre closed around 9 a.m. Sunday – the hockey team being the last to leave.
Only minor injuries have been reported, said police, however the accounts are not yet final.
RCMP were advising drivers to avoid the highway between Leduc and Airdrie Saturday due to extremely poor driving conditions. A section of the highway near Menaik Road north of Ponoka was closed and rerouted, Saturday.
It has since reopened in both directions and snow plows are out. However, vehicles still litter the ditches and roadsides as crews work to clean up the aftermath of the collisions. RCMP are advising people to not drive on the highway unless it’s absolutely necessary.
In a statement Sunday morning, Edmonton Police Service said in the 24-hour period between 8 a.m. Saturday and 8 a.m. Sunday, there were a total of 39 collisions reported within the Edmonton city limits, not including the highway.
— with files from Nicole Stillger, Global News
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