A bus passenger from Red Deer who was too afraid to drive because of a spring blizzard landed in the middle of Thursday’s massive pileup on Hwy 2 near Leduc.
“We were driving down the highway and there’s cars piled up on both sides. When the bus started to brake, it started sliding to the right. We hit a car on the right. We hit a car on the left. Then we went sideways into the ditch. Then another car smashed into us,” said Kristen Verwey, 22.
“The entire bus in unison made a sound like — whoaa. But no one actually seemed that scared.”
She said there was a second when she thought the Greyhound bus would tip, but it stayed upright.
The multi-vehicle mayhem involved more than 100 vehicles and happened around 11:30 a.m. near the Hwy 13 overpass in the northbound lanes of Hwy 2.
“Even when cars were stopped safely, more cars were coming behind them and smashing them.”
Verwey, who hopped on the 10:55 a.m. bus in Red Deer to work at this weekend’s Edmonton Home and Garden Show, said one woman at the front of the bus was injured, possibly a broken collar bone. There might have been other less serious injuries on the bus, but the woman was the only one taken away by paramedics.
Alberta Health Services reported about 22 people went to Edmonton area hospitals, including one adult with serious injuries. At least 100 vehicles were involved.
Kerry Williamson, with Alberta Health Services, said that about 80 others were treated at the site. At first it was believed that even more people were hurt.
“The initial call came in that we had in 300 green patients, which are sort of minor to moderate injuries.”
Paramedics, EMS crews and firefighters trudged through the snow, going from vehicle to vehicle, to check on those inside, Williamson said.
They commandeered three Greyhound buses on the highway and used them as triage centres, he said. Police also escorted four Edmonton transit buses to the scene to provide shelter to motorists who were stranded.
Patients were taken to area hospitals.
STARS air ambulance had to turn down requests to ferry patients because of the bad weather, said spokesman Cam Heke. The helicopters simply couldn’t get in the air.
Heather Kipling, AHS spokesperson in Red Deer, said Red Deer Regional Hospital was prepared if needed.
Verwey said bus passengers had to walk about two km south to get on another bus to take them away. She said several were used to pick up people stranded in their vehicles. RCMP closed a 60-kilometre stretch of Hwy 2.
By 4:15 p.m., her bus was in Ponoka where it took some people to hospital. She wasn’t sure then how long it would take to make her way to Edmonton.
Const. Karolina Malik said the first crash happened just before lunch.
“And from that collision we ended up getting a chain reaction, so multiple other collisions occurred from there, due to the poor visibility and the icy roads.”
After surviving her first, and hopefully last, bus crash, Verwey said she was happy with the way emergency personnel handled the major highway disaster.
“They did the best they could. They had the paramedics here quickly. They’re trying to transport us back and take care of injured people at the same time,” Verwey said.
However, she said might think twice about travelling again in severe weather.
“I think I’m definitely safer on the bus than in my car. But if the weather is this bad again, I’d see if the travel was really necessary.”
At 7 a.m., RCMP Innisfail Integrated Traffic Services had put out the warning because of blowing snow and reduced visibility on Hwy 2.
Red Deer Rural Cpl. Barry LaRocque also recommended that if people didn’t have to drive, they shouldn’t.
“The roads are in terrible driving condition right now and we anticipate it to be that way throughout the day and likely into Friday as well,” LaRocque said.
Numerous collisions also happened on Hwy 2 in the Red Deer area. Some ambulances were called out, but there were no serious injuries, he said.
LaRocque said police had the same old message — drive to conditions.
Environment Canada issued a winter storm warning for Red Deer, Ponoka, Innisfail and Stettler at 10 a.m. Thursday. A low pressure system moving southeast from Edmonton towards Drumheller brought a northwest wind gusting to 50 km/h and heavy snow with accumulations of up to 10 cm. The combination created whiteout conditions in many Central Alberta areas.
Today’s forecast for Red Deer calls for a sunny yet unseasonably cold -9 C with a 20 km/h wind. The sunshine will continue and temperatures warm over the weekend before a return to above 0C highs by Monday. However, nightly lows are forecast to drop to as cold as -18C Saturday and remain in the -12C region through next week.