Russell firefighters brave blizzard to find stranded motorists
Around 30 people became stranded on Highway 16 after driving into the blizzard once they reached Manitoba
The small western Manitoba community of Russell sent out a rescue team late Tuesday to rescue dozens of travellers stranded after a blizzard swept through the province Tuesday and left snowdrifts up to six feet tall on a local highway.
Wes Anderson, emergency measures co-ordinator for the municipality of Russell-Binscarth, said 30 people were rescued from vehicles stranded on Highway 16 just outside of the town Tuesday afternoon, when the height of the blizzard was slamming Manitoba.
"They were very surprised," he said. "They said that there was some smooth sailing on the highways through Saskatchewan and once they hit the Manitoba border they were surprised to see the snowdrifts across the highway."
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He said emergency measures registered another 50 to 80 people who made it to Russell and became stranded when the highways closed.
Rheanne Gray, manager of the Russell Inn, said the 125-room hotel was full with stranded travellers on Tuesday night and the motorists brought in that evening slept on cots in the hotel's banquet room.
She said staff members who could make it to work have put in long hours this week managing the influx of people.
Anderson said emergency personnel in the town, located near the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border and about 300 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, were first notified late Tuesday afternoon that there were people stranded on the highway and mobilized a 14-member search-and-rescue team around 5 p.m.
Some motorists had been stranded on the highway for more than 12 hours, he said.
"We had drifts in some spots that were between four to six feet tall, anywhere from 10 to 40 feet in width [on the highway]," Anderson said. "The winds had done some havoc on the highways out in our area."
Wind gusts of more than 80 km/h were clocked in western Manitoba as a result of the blizzard.
Anderson said members of the some fire department and public works plowed a way out of town and escorted motorists back in, while others rode out on snowmobiles and a rescue vehicle.
With the weather starting to clear up, Anderson is hopeful some stranded travellers will be able to head home.
"We have some major snow drifts and snow piles throughout town," he said. "Our public works crews are currently opening up Main Street."
"It's definitely a a winter wonderland back here in Russell."