People stranded by storm crashed at Walmarts in Ontario
Store staff blew up air mattresses for people to sleep on, served hot meals from deli
Dozens of people spent the night in a Walmart store in Chatham-Kent, located in southwestern Ontario, on Friday as a punishing winter blizzard closed the roads around them. At least one person who was stranded says the staff made it as comfortable as possible.
Store staff blew up air mattresses for the shoppers and served hot meals from the deli, says Heather Nickoli, who was en route from Ohio to Peterborough, Ont., with her boyfriend. Store workers also played music and gave people games to play.
A total of 50 stranded customers and 48 staff spent the night.
"It was a little shocking at first," Nickoli said Saturday. She had planned to stay in a hotel room in Chatham and stopped at the store first, but she said that as she was leaving, police closed the roads.
"I would rather be in a bed or hotel somewhere. But we all made the best of it," Nickoli said.
"Everybody was great. Everybody got along well. There were no problems. They made it very comfortable. They played music. They gave people games and stuff to play. It was very nice."
As for the Walmart staff, she said, "every single one of them were very pleasant about it."
The unexpected Walmart stay came as a winter storm pummelled much of Ontario, Quebec and other parts of Canada. Environment and Climate Change Canada has issued weather alerts for most provinces and territories.
In Chatham-Kent, which is on the northwestern shore of Lake Erie, there were multiple vehicle crashes, and motorists abandoned their vehicles on the roads.
The municipality has declared a state of emergency.
Nickoli said she entered southwestern Ontario on Friday morning, and when she arrived in Chatham, there was a detour on Highway 401. That's when she decided to get a hotel room, but she didn't make it there.
Walmart says about 50 people spent the night at the store. Staff supplied hot meals, air mattresses, pillows and blankets, as well as snacks for the kids.
"I think every single air mattress they had in the store they pumped up," Nickoli said. "Some people didn't sleep at all. Some people just stayed up and played cards games all night. But we definitely needed the nap, so we took a nap for a while."
The Chatham store wasn't the only one where people slept at a Walmart. In Fort Erie, Ont., the retailer said, 10 staff have stayed to help a small family who is still stranded there on Christmas Eve.
The family, Walmart said, is being "kept warm, cosy and fed" — and even watching movies on a large-screen TV.
Judy Lagasse, the store manager of the Chatham-Kent Walmart who spent the night in the store, said neither she nor most of the staff slept at all.
At 4 p.m. on Friday, police told her they were closing the roads, she said, and within half an hour, the roads were closed. Lagasse said she learned at 7:30 p.m. that people would be spending the night in the store.
The staff fed people samosas, drinks and snacks. Two of the stranded people were toddlers, and the staff gave them crayons and colouring books. One of the staffers was celebrating a birthday, and everyone had cake, she said.
People were anxious at first, but they had positive attitudes, Lagasse said.
"Humanity," she said. "Humanity still exists."
With files from Carly Thomas
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