Nova Scotia

Stranded travellers finally freed from blocked N.S. highway

After spending 14 hours trapped on a cold, snow-swept highway, Jane Porter wonders why it took so long for help to arrive to free her and hundreds of other stranded travellers.

Transportation minister calls for review of events

After spending 14 hours trapped on a cold, snow-swept highway, Jane Porter wonders why it took so long for help to arrive to free her and hundreds of other stranded travellers.

As many as 1,500 vehicles were stranded at the Cobequid Pass in northern Nova Scotia overnight.

"We didn't move all night. Basically nothing was happening. Nothing was moving on our side of the road," Porter told CBC News.

The section of the Trans-Canada Highway from the toll booths to Glenholme became impassable Wednesday after a sudden storm hit. High winds and heavy snow created whiteout conditions.

Late in the afternoon, a couple of trucks jackknifed, blocking the road. The situation got worse when people tried to swerve around them to continue on toward New Brunswick and became stuck, blocking the way entirely.

It wasn't long before there was a growing lineup of cars with nowhere to go.

Porter and thousands of others hunkered down for the night — many without food and blankets.

Sébastien Thériault considers himself lucky. He filled up his gas tank before leaving Halifax.

"Some people [were] starting to run out of gas, so they [had] to turn their engine off and they [had] no heat and no food or anything," Thériault said.

One couple shared their stash of water bottles and chocolate bars with other stranded travellers.

Scott and Joann Tyrie said they were moved by the sight of a man scooping up snow in an old Tim Hortons cup, presumably to melt for drinking.

Porter didn't have food. But what she really wanted was information. She said she was only two kilometres from the toll booth near the centre of the pass, but didn't hear from any officials until 6:45 a.m.

"They should have turned our line of traffic around if they had the highway shut down," Porter said. "There is no reason they couldn't have turned back the westbound travelling traffic."

After a 14-hour wait, Porter was finally able to roll out of the area Thursday morning as road crews began clearing a path.

'Was it avoidable?'

The Nova Scotia Transportation Department will review the response — or lack of — by authorities.

"Was it avoidable? You know we can't predict the weather, we can't predict something like this will happen," said Transportation Minister Murray Scott.

"I certainly feel very sorry that that happened to those folks. I believe that the department does everything possible to avoid these kinds of things happening," Scott said. "I would say thank God that no one was hurt, injured or worse."

An independent consultant will review overall safety on the Cobequid Pass. In addition, the province will look at whether it can force the private toll road operator to allow more services on that stretch of highway.

RCMP and Transportation Department officials said they didn't get any warning that the storm was coming.

Medical emergency

The traffic jam meant snowplows and emergency vehicles couldn't get through.

"When the two lanes were blocked, some people were trying to take the shoulder and try to bypass all the vehicles. Unfortunately, they became stuck as well, which blocked all three lanes making it non-accessible by anyone," said RCMP Sgt. Mark Gallagher.

An ambulance and a police car headed east on the highway to reach people caught in the westbound lanes.

The ambulance picked up a man who said he was having a stroke, while the officer brought a soda to someone who feared going into diabetic shock.

Melanie Ferro said it was frustrating to be stuck on the highway and not know what was happening.

"We haven't had any assistance this whole time," she told CBC News early Thursday.

Ferro and five other members of a dance troupe were on their way to Moncton when they got stuck around 6 p.m.

She said when they called 911, they were told there was a 10-kilometre line of cars backed up.

"In the middle of the night I needed to get up and go for a walk so I walked down and I could see for a full kilometre and it was completely stopped," she said.

The problems on the highway Thursday morning were slowing efforts to restore power in Parrsboro, one of several communities around the mainland that lost electricity in the storm.

At its peak, about 20,000 customers were without power.

With files from the Canadian Press