British Columbia

Coquihalla Highway reopens after closure leaves drivers stranded overnight

Freezing rain and ice led to hundreds of people stuck overnight on many of B.C.'s major highways.

Drivers cautioned to keep speed below 80 km/h

The Coquihalla was closed Thursday afternoon due to hazardous icy conditions 0:43

The Coquihalla (Highway 5) has reopened after a 20-hour closure that left hundreds of people trapped in their cars overnight.

The road had been closed since 6 p.m. PT Thursday after freezing rain created treacherous driving conditions.

North Vancouver's Joanna Hirner and her family had been stuck on the road since 8 p.m. on Thursday. They were trying to get to Big White Ski Resort near Kelowna.

"We did get some sleep last night. Just trying to make the best of it," she told CBC News. "We're lucky that we were going skiing, so we've got lots of warm clothes and we're OK."

She said she's been impressed by her seven and nine-year-old daughters' attitudes to the situation.

"They've been really patient. They've got books and toys ... we'll just tough it out."

Highway closures

As of 2:00 PT, here's the status of each major highway:

  • Highway 5 has been reopened. Drivers are asked to stay below 80 km/h.
  • Highway 3 is closed in both directions from Fernie to the Highway 93 junction. It is now open from Hope to Manning Park after being closed due to an avalanche hazard, as well as from Sparwood to the B.C.-Alberta border.
  • Highway 1 is closed from Yale to the Highway 12 junction at Lytton because of a high avalanche hazard. There is no estimated time of it reopening. A further update is expected at 8 a.m. PT on Friday.
  • Highway 1 has been reopened in Glacier National Park after a closure for avalanche control.
  • Highway 99 is reopened in both directions south of Highway 12 junction in Lillooet.
All highways linking the Lower Mainland to the rest of B.C. are closed 1:33

The Coquihalla was initially closed Thursday around noon due to a series of car accidents. It was reopened at 4 p.m., only to be closed again two hours later.

Many who were left trapped wondered why the Ministry of Transportation reopened the highway at all.

Mike Lorimer, the ministry's regional director for the southern Interior, said the decision was made because their forecast only called for a bit of seasonal snow and rain.

"That's a pretty typical forecast for the Coquihalla, so that combined with the road conditions and the fact that we kept the travel advisory in place ... we felt comfortable getting that road open."

Lorimer said the ministry would've made a different decision had it known about the freezing rain that was coming.

"[The forecast] didn't have those treacherous conditions when we made the decision to open ... if it had, we wouldn't have made that."

Stranded in truck

One couple was stranded in their truck on the Coquihalla near Coldwater, about 30 kilometres south of Merritt.

"We're prepared. We've got winter tires, we've got chains, lots of food... but you don't anticipate this to happen," Cassidy Carew told CBC News Thursday night.Sean Buker described the road as a sheet of ice.

Cars were still lined up along the Coquihalla highway Friday morning after the road closed at 6 p.m. the night before. (Daniel Beauparlant/CBC)

"We talked to a couple truck drivers and they said in the 30 years this thing's been open, it's the worst conditions they've ever seen," he said.

The pair said they were trying to get to Sun Peaks for the Family Day long weekend.

Cars on the Coquihalla were stuck until at least 8 a.m. Friday after the road closed on Thursday afternoon. (Daniel Hirner)

With files from CBC's Farrah Merali