Snowmobiles provide rescue, deliveries: Manitobans step up during blizzard

Drivers stranded on Highway 1 during a blizzard were greeted with a strange and welcome sight early Tuesday morning – firefighters on snowmobiles.

Firefighters, pharmacists used snowmobiles to help people in need during snowstorm

Firefighters from the Rural Municipality of Whitehead made their way out to people trapped on the Trans-Canada Highway during intense blizzard conditions. (David Matthews/Facebook)

Drivers stranded on Highway 1 during a blizzard were greeted with a strange and welcoming sight early Tuesday morning — firefighters on snowmobiles.

Firefighters from the Rural Municipality of Whitehead, between Brandon and Virden, Man. and local volunteers from Alexander, Man. made their way out to people trapped on the Trans-Canada Highway with gasoline, goodies and transportation to a local community hall.

Firefighter David Matthews says when the weather cleared up a bit in the morning they started reaching out to the community to find transportation to save those stranded by the wild winter weather.

"The phone rang, 'Who has a snowmobile? Can we borrow it?'" Matthews said.

He said around 70 people who had been on the highway for up to 18 hours ended up hopping on the backs of snowmobiles to head to warmth and food. For those who decided to stay with their own transportation, the snowmobile rescuers left behind gas to keep the vehicles running and warm.

Back in Alexander, the emergency centre was moved from the local hall to the town's school gymnasium to allow for more space. It quickly filled with the smells of fresh food and the conversations of weary travellers happy to have a place to relax or sleep.

"There is a pile of food here. It's wonderful," Matthews said.

Around 70 people who had been stranded on the highway for up to 18 hours were brought to Alexander's gym for food and a warm place to sleep. (David Matthews/Facebook)

With blizzard conditions persisting through Tuesday night and highways throughout the southeast part of the province closed, Matthews said they are setting the gym up to provide a good night's rest for stuck travellers, while others in the community have opened their homes up as well.

"It's great the way the community has all joined together," he said.

Callan Fergusson farms just north of the Trans-Canada Highway and decided he would make sure the semi-truck drivers trapped in a convoy by the storm were faring well.

"I thought, 'You know what, I'd hate for someone to be in tough shape,'" he said.

"I thought, 'I'll take the chance to zip out with the sled there and see if there was anybody out there.'"

The drivers wanted to stay with their semi-trailers. Fergusson said while they looked well prepared to hunker down for the long haul, they appreciated having someone to chat with about the white-knuckle conditions that left them stranded on the road.

"I was getting all sorts of stories. The one old fella there, he was saying that he could hardly see 20 feet in front of him and they were going at 20 kilometres an hour," he said.

Souris, Man. has also opened up its arena to house stranded people. The community donated blankets, food, coffee and treats. On Monday, community members used tractors to rescue a young American couple stranded on the side of road.

'Hope this never happens again'

In Roblin, Man., medication was delivered to doorsteps by snowmobile.

Sean Keller prepares to leave Mitchell's Drug Store in Roblin, Man. to deliver medication by snowmobile. (Mitchell's Drug Store/Facebook)
Whitney Mitchell owns Mitchell's Drug Store with her husband Sean Keller. The store has been in her family for more than 45 years and has never closed down for a blizzard, she said. But on Tuesday morning Mitchell couldn't even get out of her driveway.

Although the couple decided not to open the pharmacy, they received a few calls from customers and decided to fire up their snowmobiles.

"There were a few people pretty thankful," she said.

The pharmacists posted the photos of their unusual work attire — full snowsuits, helmets and giant gloves — on Facebook, where people pointed out their dedication to delivery.

Mitchell says it's a small community and they are the only pharmacy, so they know their customers and everyone helps each other out.

"We live in a great town. We had people help us plow out our roads, help us get to the store today," she said.

However, she hopes it doesn't become a regular service requirement.

"It was fun to do that too, that was totally something way different than we'd done before," she said.

"[But] I hope this never happens again."