Blizzard-bound Churchill awaits supply train: OmniTrax says track cleared

Another winter blizzard is hitting the remote northern Manitoba community of Churchill, where people are already desperate for groceries that have been delayed since the last blizzard two weeks ago.

But there could be relief as soon as Monday afternoon, if the train can get all the way through to the town of about 900 residents. 

OmniTrax, the Denver-based company that owns the rail line that brings supplies into Churchill, cleared the tracks and is trying to get supplies delivered as soon as possible. A train with supplies departed from the northern Manitoba town of Gillam, about 270 kilometres southeast of Churchill, at around noon Monday.

"A lot of families are suffering because they have young children and they need milk," said local resident Lana Bilenduke.

No bread or vegetables are for sale at the local store and meat is scarce, she said.

"Everyone's in a crisis until we get our groceries in."

The northern Manitoba town is again in the midst of near-zero visibility, wind gusts of 90 km/h and wind chill values in the –40s due to an intense low pressure system over Hudson Bay, according to Environment Canada.

The forecast calls for five more centimetres of snow, on top of the 60 cm that fell over three days during the previous blizzard. The town has been under a local state of emergency since then.

The latest blizzard conditions should ease late Monday afternoon or early in the evening.

Churchill Deputy Mayor Shane Hutchins said a freight train hasn't come into town in nearly three weeks, and people are still digging out from the earlier blizzard.

Deliveries usually come once a week, but shelves are bare at the town's lone supermarket — the Northern Store, he said.

"I've lived here 50 years and no, we've never had anything like this."

However, the news that OmniTrax has a train loaded with supplies headed that way is welcome news, he said.

"It looks like we should have groceries available to us hopefully some time either late this afternoon or early tomorrow morning," he said, adding: "I don't know what the expiry date of the vegetables or produce is … fingers crossed they are in relatively good shape."

People in Churchill were becoming increasingly frustrated with OmniTrax after what Hutchins described as "nearly non-existent" communication between the company and the town since snow-clearing plows on the line were recently shut down.

Ron Margulis, an OmniTrax spokesperson, said the snow on the rail line to Churchill was abnormal and difficult for crews to get rid of. But as of Monday the crews had accomplished that goal.

Margulis also disputed Hutchins's assertion OmniTrax has not communicated properly with the town.

Margulis said the company had sent notices to communities along the route that were affected by the line's temporary closure.