Howling winds and white-out conditions didn’t stop some Olds residents from helping the fire department rescue livestock from a flipped cattle liner during Monday’s snowstorm.
“The wind was brutal, just brutal. We were waiting for a break in the storm that just didn’t come,” recalled Rachel Pavan, who was at the scene with her husband Darren and daughter Darine.
The Olds Fire department is commending the Pavans and other community heroes for helping to carry out a rescue effort in dangerous conditions after a cattle liner tipped into the ditch along Hwy 2.
The Olds Fire Department and Olds RCMP dealt with multiple incidents on Hwy 2 and Hwy 27, responding to many motorists who were stuck in the ditch, or who had no visibility to drive on safely. As a result of these poor road conditions, the loaded a semi cattle liner had rolled.
The Pavans, who transport livestock for a living, were among those called in by the Olds Fire department to assist in the wee hours of Tuesday when Environment Canada reported 80-km-per-hour winds and windchills in the mid -30s in central Alberta.
The snow-blown accident scene, about four miles north of the Olds overpass at Hwy 2 south had actually happened hours earlier, but fire crews had waited in hopes the high wind and snow would let up.
The effort to free the cattle started early on Tuesday as the storm showed no signs of waning. Most of the community rescuers had arrived in near white-out conditions at about 1:30 to 2 a.m.
Rachel said more than 100 calves were trapped inside the liner in about five separate compartments. The trailer was lying flipped on its side in the ditch, next to the south lanes of Hwy 2.
RCMP members had closed southbound lanes to traffic and then detoured motorists on Hwy 2A. Eighteen firefighters, along with three police officers, were on scene for about 10 hours managing this incident. There were no injuries to humans reported.
Since the cattle liners’ back gates couldn’t be opened, firefighters had to drill hole after hole into the side and roof of the metal trailer to reach the animals. Rachel credited veterinarian Curtis Luzi, of Riverstone Veterinary Service, for spending hours helping identify where each hole should be cut and examining each calves for injuries.
Only 66 of the 102 calves survived, she added.
“The firefighters were amazing. They just kept cutting…” recalled Rachel, who like other rescuers spent down-time warming up in vehicles.
Most of the cows were in shock, stumbling through a gated corridor erected by Yde Rinsma, a local dairy owner, to get them into a holding pen and three transport trucks.
One terrified cow charged anyone trying to help her get to the holding pen, recalled Rachel. “We had to climb on the gates” to get out of her way. Two nine-month-old calves had recently been separated from their mothers and were being trucked to a feedlot in southern Alberta when “their whole lives were turned around,” she explained.
Ultimately, a calmer four-legged calf was brought out to help lead the terrified one onto one of three transport truck brought in to remove the cattle.
Rinsma said adverse weather was the biggest challenge to the operation that finally wrapped up at about 7 a.m. when the cows were unloaded at Rosehill Auction for temporary accommodation as the insurance company assesses damages.
Two calves were still at the Pavan’s farm to get their strength back on Wednesday. Rachel said, these 400-pound animals could barely stand after the incident and firefighters had to “use their muscle” to carry them into the transport trucks.
The Olds Fire department gave a big Facebook shout-out to all who provided invaluable assistance, including Rinsma and the Pavans, Roger Ruby who helped haul livestock, Olds Auction Mart, Riverstone Veterinary Services, Volker Stevin crews, and Buck Thompson and Olds Regional Exhibition Association for providing corralling gates.
“We live in such a great community that answers the call for help,” posted the Olds Fire Department.
Rachel said rescuers can always bill the insurance company for their time and effort, while Olds’ volunteer firefighters spent a long, cold night without complaint in the service of their community. “They were so polite, such gentlemen.”
A reception centre was established in Olds for motorists that were stranded, and the Didsbury Fire Department assisted in transporting people off the highway into Olds.