The Confederation Bridge reopened Sunday evening after being closed to all traffic for much of the day due to poor weather conditions and a nine-vehicle pileup that police say was likely caused by whiteouts.

At about 11 a.m. — just before the bridge closed because of poor visibility and strong winds — emergency crews responded to the pileup, said RCMP.

'If you had a box of toothpicks and you spilled them all over the floor ... We had vehicles scattered all over the place.' - Paul Murphy, chief, Borden-Carleton Fire Department

The accident happened just past the toll booths where the lanes start to merge.

Five of the vehicles involved were effectively written off, but there were only minor injuries, said police.         

Paul Murphy, chief of the Borden-Carleton Fire Department, was one of the first on scene.

He said even emergency crews had trouble reaching the crash.

Snowplows pulled

"If you had a box of toothpicks and you spilled them all over the floor ... that's it. We had vehicles scattered all over the place, but luckily no one was hurt bad," said Murphy.

"Upon us arriving on the Confederation Bridge, all the people involved in the vehicles were being housed in one vehicle, only because that was the only vehicle that had all the glass still intact so it was the only shelter point they had."

The Department of Transportation had pulled all snowplows off the roads in Prince County around 7:30 a.m.

As the winds picked up, the decision was made to close the bridge, said toll-traffic supervisor, Keith Sigsworth.

"Well it kind of all jumbled together. We were making that decision at the same time as there were calls coming over the radio of somebody getting rear-ended over on the east approach."

At one point winds were gusting up to 140 km/h, said Sigsworth.

Town lends helping hand

The people involved in the crash were all leaving P.E.I. together because they had come for a girls' hockey tournament.

They sought refuge from the storm at the Borden-Carleton Fire Hall, said Murphy.

When word spread online about their situation, the Town of Borden-Carleton rallied around the families.

"The mood was great. The outcome of the accident could have been much worse. And they were warm and dry. We provided them with some beverages and some of the local people provided some snacks and cookies and this and that. Someone arrived with a big pot of chili," said Murphy.

"So they were all inside and we hooked up a TV so some of the children could watch some movies and whatnot."

Firefighters drove the families to a local motel for the night.