Churchill 'like a ghost town' after blizzard buries town in snow

A powerful blizzard that has walloped Manitoba for three days continues to pummel Churchill.

Manitoba blizzard wallops Churchill, hampering emergency services

Churchill in March snowstorm

6 years ago
Duration 0:10
Images from around Churchill, Man., during a blizzard on March 9, 2017. (Video credit: Keith McDougall, KProductions)

A powerful blizzard that has walloped Manitoba for three days continues to pummel Churchill. 

"It looked like a ghost town yesterday. No one was out. It is still blanketed in white. Plugged solid with snow," said Mayor Mike Spence.

The whiteout, with gusts stronger than 90 kilometres per hour, shut down all businesses and even the local health clinic. The hospital, which is in the same building as the clinic, is open.

Snow had cemented one of the main doors closed and the facility was asking people to use a loading dock to get in, but the doorway has now been cleared. 

Spence said not much is moving in town.

"Essential services can't respond. There hasn't been, luckily, knock on wood, any emergencies yet. We will keep our fingers crossed on that," said Spence. 

Staff are working overtime at the Churchill Health Centre, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. A WRHA spokesperson said anyone who needs emergency care is asked to call 911 or the health centre directly before leaving home. 

Snowmobiles, trains, planes stuck

Police and fire crews have also been immobilized by the blizzard.

Residents can't see out their windows and some can't even get out their front or back doors. Even snowmobilers aren't out — Spence said some snowbanks are more than three metres high, making snowmobiling too dangerous.

A Via Rail train that arrived in Churchill on Tuesday, and its passengers, remain stranded in the community. Zero visibility grounded all flights, forcing a shutdown of the airport. Businesses remain closed on Thursday.

Spence said whether people are stuck at home or stranded at work, there doesn't seem to be any sense of panic. He credits social media for that. Even though people are isolated, they are staying connected online, he said.

Massive snowdrifts have shut down businesses in Churchill. (supplied)

U.S. students thrilled with blizzard

Nineteen university students from Atlanta, Ga. have been stuck at the Churchill Northern Studies Centre since Tuesday.

The centre's executive director, Grant MacNeil, said the students are in great spirits and excited to be in Canada during a blizzard.

"They are pretty impressed by how much snow there is. They think this is typical, like we always have these big, long multi-day storms. I said, 'I have been here a few years and have never seen anything like this.' They are all pretty pleased to be here for kind of a historic event," said MacNeil.

The first-year students from Agnes Scott College had to do a trip abroad and chose Churchill for educational projects and work. They were supposed to go dog sledding and snowmobiling, in addition to building snow shelters.

MacNeil said he has been filling in the gaps with other programs, lectures and indoor projects.

"This is a great place to be for a storm," said MacNeil. "We have a backup generator, lots of water in our tanks [and] lots of supplies. It's a great place to weather the storm."

MacNeil said despite the blizzard forcing the students to stay inside, they were thrilled to see the northern lights when they arrived on Sunday night. They are scheduled to fly out Friday — if the airport reopens by then.

Not much is moving in Churchill since a blizzard hit earlier this week. Trains are at a standstill and flights have been cancelled. (Keith McDougall, KProductions)

On standby

Mayor Spence said the town is waiting for the winds to die down, so crews can start punching a road through to the health centre and open up other streets. Spence said he has been in contact with the local emergency measures representative, even though not much can be done right now.

"Once this blizzard passes we will do an assessment of the support that is needed and we will deal with that," said Spence. 

Conditions aren't expected to improve until late Thursday or Friday. As much as 60 to 80 cm of snow is expected in the northern region before the storm moves out.