A freezing rain warning was issued for about four hours Thursday for the Edmonton region, as overnight precipitation turned to deadly ice on the area’s roads and highways.
Environment Canada said a band of icy rain was moving eastward through Edmonton and the surrounding areas, prompting a warning to be issued just after 1 p.m.
The warning was issued for the city of Edmonton and the surrounding regions, and later extended south to central Alberta. That set of warnings ended just after 6 p.m. 10 as the system moved east.
By noon, warnings remained valid for only the northeastern edge of Alberta near Cold Lake and Fort McMurray.
Fatal collisions on area highways
At 1:30 p.m., the RCMP said 143 collisions were reported across Alberta, with most of them concentrated in and around the Edmonton area.
Two of the collisions were fatal, another eight resulted in injuries and four were hit-and-run collisions.
The RCMP said the majority of accidents involved multiple vehicles, and Alberta Health Services said the EMS responded to at least six motor vehicle collisions.
Fatal Ponoka collision
South of Edmonton, a crash on QEII near Ponoka around 6:15 claimed the life of a person, the RCMP told Global News. The motorway was closed down in a northbound direction and traffic was diverted at Ponoka to Highway 2a.
The RCMP said the preliminary investigation indicates a semi-jackknifed on the QEII and was subsequently hit by another tractor trailer. A third semi was unable to stop and slipped into the crash site.
At least one person was killed as a result of the collision, the RCMP said.
Global News was able to count at least eight semi- and passenger vehicles that were either involved in the accident or had hit the ditch near the site.
Shortly before 5:30 p.m., the RCMP gave an update on the accident, saying their preliminary investigation suggests at least seven semi-trucks and an SUV were involved.
Police also said one of the damaged tankers was carrying ammonium nitrate. They said the drug was contained and that “appropriate partners” are involved in the cleanup of the “volatile goods.”
According to the RCMP, the person killed in the collision was a 64-year-old man from Rimbey, Alta., Who was driving one of the semi-trucks. Police said they expected traffic to still be diverted for “a few hours”.
“The RCMP is asking motorists to take alternative routes and avoid the collision area,” the press release said. “Slow down and drive to the conditions as they can vary across the province.”
Just before 7.30pm, the RCMP issued yet another update, saying the northbound lanes on Highway 2 at the Crandall junction had been reopened.
1 killed in massive accumulation of tractor trailer on QEII near Ponoka after icy morning rain
One of the trailers was split in two due to the collision and debris from the cargo covered the highway.
A Global News crew heading south on QEII spotted at least 10 passenger vehicles in the ditch, mostly abandoned, between southern Edmonton and the turnoff to Leduc Airport.
About halfway between Edmonton and Ponoka, a semi with knives backed up the traffic in the northbound lanes, and a handful of other tractor trailers were seen in the ditch with a few tipped to the side.
The Millet Fire Department said the area’s roads Thursday morning turned to ice and that conditions at QEII were the worst the department has seen in years.
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A fatal accident also occurred just before noon. 7, north of Gibbons on Highway 28. The RCMP said a semi-tractor trailer and a pickup truck collided, killing two people in the smaller vehicle.
EMS transported two other patients in stable condition to the hospital, Alberta Health Services said.
The highway was closed between Township Road 570 and 564 while a collision analyst examined the site.
A peace officer from Sturgeon County said the road would be closed until sometime Thursday afternoon.
Shortly after kl. 18.00 gave the RCMP an update on the crash. They said the results of a preliminary investigation suggest the pickup truck was heading north on Highway 28 when it lost control near Township Road 564 and entered the oncoming lane before being hit by a semi-truck on road to the south, which drew nitrogen.
During the collision, police said the pickup truck was engulfed in flames and stopped in the eastern ditch, while the semi-truck stopped in the western ditch. Other people driving on the highway stopped to help and called 911. The people in the pickup truck were declared dead on the spot by ambulance people while the semi-truck driver was not injured.
According to the RCMP, Environment Canada was called in and coordinated the cleanup of the semi-truck with nitrogen. They said that while the cause of the collision is still under investigation, “it is believed to be a contributing cause of icy road surface.”
The road has since been reopened.
The Highway 60 bridge over the North Saskatchewan River near Devon was closed for a few hours after a semi-jackknifed in the northbound lanes across the river, the RCMP said.
A driver told Global News that the bridge further west near Genesee was also closed for a few hours.
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Inside the city, the Edmonton Police Service said 59 collisions were reported between 5:30 a.m. and 9:30 p.m. Of those, four resulted in injuries and one was a hit-and-run accident. No fatalities were reported in Edmonton, police said.
“When we go back to winter, drivers are reminded to slow down, allow greater stopping distances and drive to road conditions,” the EPS said.
Edmonton transit and school departments stop buses
Just after noon. At 7:30 a.m., the Edmonton Transit Service suspended the bus connection due to freezing rain, though the LRT service continued. On Demand Transit and DATS also experienced delays.
A spokesman for the city said the Edmonton Transit Service has suspended the service in the past in very rare cases.
“Due to the extreme road conditions this morning, the operator reports to our ETS Control Center, and a high amount of reported road collisions, the decision was made to suspend the service temporarily to keep staff and riders safe,” said ETS communications consultant Olena Babiy.
“The roads were icy and slippery for a long time, which increases the risk of our ability to deliver our service safely.”
The bus connection resumed around kl. 8:45, but ETS said the ripple effect from the morning would be felt for several hours.
“We expect delays throughout the system as buses will run at slower speeds due to road conditions,” the service said in a tweet.
Due to icy conditions across the city and traffic challenges, Babiy said the ETS expects schedule challenges across the system.
She said the city sent staff and equipment to reduce slippery conditions on roads and sidewalks throughout the city.
“Trucks distribute salt to areas like bridges, hills and the river valley while working through arteries and collection roads that require immediate attention,” Babiy said.
“We ask the Edmontonians to drive with caution while our crew maintains the lanes as safely and quickly as possible.”
Many school departments canceled morning buses due to the cold rain, including the Parkland School Division, Sturgeon Public Schools and Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools.
Freezing rain is causing problems for the Edmontonians Thursday
Planes stranded at Edmonton airport
Planes were put on hold at Edmonton International Airport because the runways were pure ice, a Global News reporter learned at the airport.
Darrell Winwood with the airport said there were a handful of flight delays but no direct cancellations.
He reminded passengers to check the airport’s website for their flight status before leaving home, as it is updated in real time.
Those going out Thursday should give themselves extra time and drive carefully, Winwood added.
Freezing rain leads to landslides and falls
Surfaces such as highways, roads, footbridges and parking lots became icy when the rain fell and people were advised to be extra careful when walking or driving.
AHS spokeswoman Kerry Williamson said the EMS in Edmonton responded to 29 slips and falls – about three times the normal volume for an average morning.
Williamson said that while health officials do not break down landslides and falls on ice from other landslides and falls – such as stumbling on stairs or falling out of bed – most incidents on Thursday were likely due to weather conditions.
5 things to do if you are in a car accident
One of the best ways to track locally dangerous driving conditions is from local viewer reports. That #yegtrafik hashtags are often used by Twitter users who report traffic issues in Edmonton.
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