Review of Chatham-Kent storm response coming, councillor says

Chatham-Kent has been pummeled by a blizzard that saw hundreds of vehicles stranded. Municipal administration will be conducting a review of the response to the storm. (Heather Nickoli - image credit)
Chatham-Kent has been pummeled by a blizzard that saw hundreds of vehicles stranded. Municipal administration will be conducting a review of the response to the storm. (Heather Nickoli - image credit)

A Chatham-Kent ward councillor says it was a "miracle" that there were no fatalities on area highways during Friday's blizzard.

The storm struck Chatham-Kent on Dec. 24. Mayor Darrin Canniff issued a state of emergency the same day, which was lifted Monday.

In the meantime, however, heavy show led to chaos on the area highways, with multi-vehicle collisions reported. People abandoned vehicles on roads due to the intense snow, and dozens of people spent the night in a Chatham Walmart after becoming stranded there.

"This was like nothing I've ever experienced," Chatham-Kent Ward 6 Coun. Allyson Storey said. "This is something that I was genuinely concerned about going into Friday evening."

"We have a couple of road condition social media pages, or people were posting desperate pleas for help for friends and loved ones, or even strangers who were stranded on the roads after the 401 was closed," she said. "I was extremely, extremely concerned Friday night that we wake up to a very serious disaster Saturday morning. I really was genuinely afraid."

Luckily, there were no fatalities reported in the area, something Storey said was "a miracle."

"The images ... that folks like first responders and people who were stranded were posting were things that you might see in northern Canada, not in southwestern Ontario," she said. "We do not see blizzards like that down here normally."

Then, Storey said, she started hearing stories of Chatham-Kent homeowners opening their doors to families and even strangers and giving them a place to stay for a few days.

"It was really heartwarming," she said. "And they're still coming in. We're still hearing them today."

Storey said Chatham-Kent will be preparing a report on its response to the storm, what went well, and what might be improved in the future.

"We had our public works teams getting all the snow plows ready, getting staff ready to go, getting our salters ready," Storey said. "We had first responders who again were preparing, making sure we had first responder teams across the municipality, and we warned our citizens."

The critical message, Storey said, was to stay off the roads, as the blizzard was so severe snow plow operators, police, and paramedics had to be pulled off the road.

"It was literally too dangerous even for first responders to get out there, and they're trained for extreme situations, but we also cannot put them at risk," Storey said. "When we had to pull them off the roads, that was a very serious message that this was a situation where we could not help you right now, because it was just too dangerous for everyone."

"I also wanted to give a shout out to our 911 dispatchers, because they were taking in literally over 100 calls an hour," she said. "No question they helped save lives."

Cleanup after the storm is going well, Storey said. Temperatures are rising in Chatham-Kent, and are expected to continue to do so over the next few days.

"We have to actually keep our eyes open for flooding," she said. "We have a lot of drainage systems that need to be monitored."

Roads are open, abandoned cars have been recovered, and staffing levels at places like the hospital are back up to normal.

Meanwhile, the storm caused the City of Windsor to close its Bright Lights display in Jackson Park on Dec. 24 due to high winds and frigid weather.

However, in an update to CBC, a city spokesperson said there was no damage to the display, which reopened on Boxing Day.

The Bright Lights display will run until Jan. 8.