For six hours, Peter Harvey, his son Lucas and their dog Oliver were stuck in their truck heading west on Highway 401 Monday night.
“We had seen vehicles that had just been abandoned, a lot of transportation, medium-sized trucks, cars … and there was no traffic on the (eastbound) side,” Harvey said. “So when we stopped, it was like ‘uh-oh,'” he said.
Harvey and his 22-year-old son Lucas had traveled from the Annex neighborhood around 6:15 p.m. Monday to Pearson Airport. Lucas’ girlfriend had landed and it would be more than two hours of waiting for a taxi, so they decided they would pick her up.
The GPS said it would be 33 minutes drive. Harvey believed there would be more problems on the side streets than on the highway.
Twenty minutes inside the drive, the traffic stopped.
They ended up among hundreds of others who found themselves stranded for hours when a winter storm hit Toronto and GTA and dumped about 36cm on Monday.
The large amount of snow that fell early Monday morning and well into the afternoon led to the Don Valley Parkway and Gardiner Expressway closing down. Pictures flooded social media of cars and TTC buses trapped in the snow. Schools that were to reopen remained closed, and Toronto was still digs out on Tuesday.
Toronto police said they received about 250 weather-related calls for service Monday in connection with personal injury, property damage and overall hazards.
Harvey’s car was about a mile east of the 409 exit when they were stopped. In six hours, they traveled 500 meters, he said.
“We were fine, we were just tired. We had not turned on the car much of the time …[the gas] was getting a little low, “he said.
Harvey said he knew they could do nothing but sit there and wait as it was clear that any towing or emergency service was “under siege” due to the storm.
He and his son were bundled together and their dog was also kept warm. They had to take him outside for bathing breaks, but were otherwise fine.
“The one thing that bothered me was that it would have been easy for the Minister of Transport to say, they just know there are hundreds of cars that have been standing for four to five hours, let them know what the plan is, ” he said. .
Maintenance crews were out during and after the storm yesterday, but were prevented by the stranded cars, Kimberly Truong, a senior adviser to the ministry, said in a statement.
Updates on conditions for travelers on provincial highways can be found on the 511 Ontario app and their Twitter account, which contained information about Monday’s closures, she said.
OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told Star that at 5 a.m. Monday, traffic flowed, even with the snow. But then cars started to get stuck, and “everyone” seemed to get out on the roads at. 7.30
“We asked people to stay home unless absolutely necessary,” he said. “There was so much traffic out there.”
Several vehicles drove “sideways” and blocked lanes and ramps. There was nothing else that could be done to start moving them, as plows and tow trucks were also stuck in the backlog, some for up to 14 hours, Schmidt said.
There were few actual crashes as most people just got stuck waiting in their cars, he said. On Tuesday, several accidents happened due to the snow still on the roads and the traffic was actually moving, he added.
Monday’s snowstorm shows that having an emergency drive set for winter driving in your car is crucial to be prepared for any scenario, said Kaitlynn Furse, director of corporate communications for CAA South Central Ontario.
These can be picked up at any major retailer and include basic items like a first aid kit, blankets, snacks, water and items to keep you visible on the side of the road, she said.
Preparation can also be done in advance by checking your battery, making sure your windshield wiper fluid is charged and keeping a more full tank of gas in the winter months, Furse said.
“We all hope it never happens, but there is always a chance it can,” she said. “You need food in that time, water and to stay warm.”
Most importantly, stay in your car with the seat belt on, she said. Venturing out of your car with poor visibility can mean that other drivers cannot see you and you could be hit.
“You also want to know the location of your vehicle, understand where you are and let someone know,” she said. “If you’re in a more rural environment, it’s even more important that you call for help.”
The car can be turned on and off, depending on how much gas is left, to stay warm. Also, check your exhaust pipe to make sure it is not blocked by snow, Furse said.
“It really reinforces the importance of going out in a prepared state,” she said. “All of these things make a situation like yesterday a little easier to navigate.”