6 people survive 60 hours stranded in Manitoba blizzard with candles, M&M's

6 people survive 60 hours stranded in Manitoba blizzard with candles, M&M's

Scented candles, M&M's and a few cans of pop are what helped six people survive more than 60 hours in a blizzard on a northern Manitoba highway earlier this week.

Marie Colomb, 63, and her two sons were travelling on Highway 391 Monday night from Thompson, Man. — about 650 kilometres north of Winnipeg — to Lynn Lake, about 230 kilometres away, when they stopped to dig out friends whose vehicle had slid into the ditch.

"By the time we got them out, the wind picked up and there were big snowdrifts already. It covered the road," she said.

A massive winter storm was blanketing much of the province Monday night, hitting northern Manitoba particularly hard.

Both groups were only able to drive another 20 kilometres before the snow and wind became too much. 

All six people piled into the SUV Colomb and her sons were travelling in to keep warm through the first night. They lit two scented candles Colomb had with her to keep warm.

"We survived on candies and pop. We didn't have water, not very much water," she said.     

When they woke up on Tuesday there was still no going forward. The snowdrifts were up to her chest and in some cases more than two metres high, Colomb said.

Temperatures hovered below –30 C. Winds gusted to 80 km/h and the storm dumped roughly 50 centimetres of snow in the area.

There was no cellular service to call for help, and as the day wore on, the stranded travellers saw no sign of anyone. The highway had been closed by that time.

7-hour walk to phone for help

On Wednesday morning, Colomb's sons, John Linklater and Ernest Castel, decided they had to go for help. The men walked for hours toward an Manitoba Telecom Services tower they could see in the distance.

Both are diabetic and said it was difficult trudging through the snow, having barely eaten for two days.

"It took us seven hours to walk there through waist-deep snow," Linklater said.

When they got to the MTS building, they used their hands to dig through drifts to get to the door. They broke in and found a phone to call RCMP.

They also scored some supplies.

"There was a survival pack there with food, water, coffee, candles, a lighter. And so we took the water and the candles and that's what we were using for heat the last night," Linklater said.

16-hour journey for rescuers

Early Thursday morning, Linklater finally saw a set of headlights: help had arrived.

"I thought I was dreaming when I first heard the front-end loader coming down the highway," he said. "Finally, when that tractor pulled up right beside us, that's when I realized, 'Woohoo!'"

It took police and officials from Leaf Rapids 16 hours to plow through snow to reach them. The group was stranded 50 kilometres south of Leaf Rapids and nine kilometres from where three mushers on their way to a sled dog race were found stranded on Thursday.

Danny Smith was part of the rescue team, operating a grader.

"You couldn't tell where the road was. You were kind of guessing the whole way," Smith said, adding he was relieved to know everyone was safe.

The four men and two women were taken to the health centre in Leaf Rapids as a precaution. Despite dehydration, no one suffered any injuries.

"I got a bit of a fever," Linklater said. "I feel more relaxed now because Mom's OK. I was mostly worried about her, because it was like a camping trip for me."

Colomb and Linklater said that apart from the M&M's, positive thoughts kept them going.

"We didn't give up," Colomb said, adding she had one thing on her mind throughout the ordeal.

"My grandchildren," she said. "That's who I was going to go see."

The elder from Marcel Colomb First Nation has 33 grandkids and four great-grandchildren.