INNISFAIL — It was a short blast of winter hell along Central Alberta’s main highway. But motorists survived, largely in part to helpful Mounties who gave many stranded drivers lifts to safety.
The short winter squall rolled into the region at about 7 p.m. on Monday, Jan. 17, and it was nasty, said RCMP Cpl. Eric Ponton, the unit commander for Innisfail's Integrated Traffic Unit.
“Even for the plows at one point. The weather was too bad for the plows to be on Highway 2. The visibility at one point was zero. You couldn’t see in front of you, which made travel on the highway very, very dangerous,” said Ponton.
He said his unit, comprising of six RCMP members and five provincial sheriffs, covers the Highway 2 area from south of Olds and north to Highway 11A. He said the weather for at least six hours on the evening of Jan. 17 was “very bad” throughout his unit’s jurisdiction.
“In some places, people couldn’t see two feet in front of their vehicles. There were vehicles parked roadside all the way from Red Deer down to Olds. Innisfail was not spared. The weather was super bad here, too,” said Ponton.
However, the worst incident occurred just south of Olds when a southbound cattle liner with about 100 animals crashed at the height of the vicious squall between 8 and 9 p.m. No other vehicles were involved.
Olds firefighters and the Integrated Traffic Unit, along with local Mounties, the RCMP livestock unit and a veterinarian, were called to the scene, with some emergency responders staying for up to 10 hours.
“There were no injuries to anyone else, other than the cattle,” said Ponton. “Most of them (cattle) survived and they were taken to a farmer’s field close by until they could be loaded back up and taken where they were going. There were a few that died on impact or had to be put down.”
Ponton said traffic along Highway 2 was cut to one lane for several hours but still moving.
“The collision itself did not have a major impact on the traffic flow," he said.
And that was the worst of it, said Ponton.
Gary Leith, chief of the Innisfail Fire Department, said he was on Highway 2 between 7 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. and added that a “number” of vehicles, including a semi truck, had ended up either in the ditch or the median but none required an emergency response.
“We didn’t get a single call,” said Leith. “There was a number of people who unfortunately ended up off the road. But from the fire side of it, there was no emergency response.”
Ponton said everyone on the road that evening was “lucky.” But he also acknowledged motorists were “very careful,” and that resulted in no serious injuries or collisions reported during the squall, which left the area sometime after 1 a.m.
“People were stopping roadside and some of the members of my unit even gave rides for some of those people who were stranded to take them out of the highway so they were safer in Innisfail, Red Deer or the closest town,” said Ponton. “I’m just glad no one was injured that night. I have seen storms not as bad but with a worse outcome in the end.”
“We were lucky that nothing major happened, I’ll be honest with you.”