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Profile Facts-OTTAWA — Even in a country that prides itself at shrugging off winter, it was an exceptional storm. Several hundred drivers spent more than 24 hours stranded in their cars and trucks snowbound a major Ontario highway before the police and military rescuers extricated them on Tuesday.
More fortunate drivers were trapped in that most ubiquitous of Canadian landmarks, a Tim Hortons doughnut shop. And even an armed forces search and rescue team was stymied by the gusting winds at times.
By Tuesday afternoon, police and troops reported that they were removing significant numbers of people from the highway, No. 402, near Sarnia, Ontario. The highway was closed on Monday after high winds and rapidly falling snow squalls eliminated visibility.
A state of emergency remained in place on Tuesday and the Ontario Provincial Police estimated that about 360 vehicles holding an unknown number of passengers had spent the night on the highway.
The highway is part of the main route between Toronto and Chicago and the stranded drivers included Americans. While the area around Sarnia is familiar with sudden snow squalls, particularly in December when Lake Huron is not frozen, the intensity of the sudden storm swiftly overwhelmed snow-plow operators and police.
Chris Scott, a meteorologist for The Weather Network, a Canadian cable channel, said that the one to two feet of snow that fell along points of the highway was not extraordinary for the area. But when combined with relatively cold 10 degree Fahrenheit temperatures and 40 to 50 mile an hour winds, the storm became “exceptional.” The conditions created snow drifts exceeding six feet.
The highway largely runs through a sparsely settled rural area, leaving many drivers and their passengers with only their vehicles for shelter, although some farmers used tractors to perform impromptu rescues.
Police, often traveling by snowmobile, could do little more than encourage drivers clustered in small groups along the highway to consolidate into a single vehicle for greater warmth.
.On Tuesday morning, a Canadian Forces Hercules search and rescue plane was scanning the ground for vehicles and two military helicopters began airlifting people from cars. Police and troops had brought 237 people to shelters by the early evening and snowplows were slowly clearing the road.
The initial fright created by the whiteout turned to tedium for many drivers, particularly after 24 hours.
“What can I do?,” one driver, Colin Stewart, told the Canadian Press news agency. “I’m not impressed — it’s Canada.”
Mr. Stewart later reported later in the day that he was on his way again.