1st train in 3 weeks arrives in Churchill following blizzards

Carrots and milk are finally back on the shelves of the grocery store in the remote northern Manitoba community of Churchill after two major blizzards kept trains filled with supplies away for weeks.

"[The train] came in some time this afternoon and the Northern Store extended its hours to accommodate any community members," said Shane Hutchins, Churchill's deputy mayor.

OmniTrax, the Denver-based company that owns the rail line that brings supplies into Churchill, cleared the tracks and a train with supplies departed around noon Monday from the northern Manitoba town of Gillam, about 270 kilometres southeast of Churchill.

Keith McDougall watched the train roll in and went to the store after. He said he figures that it was reloaded with produce at some point because the vegetables hitting the shelves looked fresh, not like they'd been sitting on a train for weeks.

"There were pallets all over the place and staff pulling stuff out and putting it on the shelves," McDougall wrote in an email to CBC. "Even as we were at the checkout [we noticed], 'Oh look, they just put carrots out!"

Milk was also a hot ticket item for the residents crowding into the store, he said.

Before the train arrived, there was no bread or vegetables for sale and meat products were scarce. Hutchins said  while Churchill residents are prepared for blizzards, have deep freezes and help each other out, but with two blizzards in two weeks, there was concern.

"Usually we get a weekly train in from the south, but with the blizzards that we have been having, we hadn't had one since March 1," he said.

Churchill declared a state of emergency after a three-day-blizzard blanketed the community, shutting down some essential service. 

On Monday morning, the town was confronted with near-zero visibility and strong wind gusts of 90 to 100 km/h. A low pressure system over Hudson Bay also brought wind chill values as low as -40 C. The wild weather calmed down later in the day but Hutchins said it will still be two weeks before the community is truly back to typical weather conditions.

Hutchins said an airplane delivery with more cargo and food is expected on Wednesday and another train may also be headed to the community on Friday.