What went wrong on Highway 13, where at least 300 were stranded overnight?

By the numbers: A look at Montreal's debilitating storm

Montreal Mayor Denis Coderre is looking to the provincial government for answers after 300 people were stranded in their vehicles overnight on a stretch of Highway 13 just south of the Côte-de-Liesse Highway during Tuesday night's storm.

- LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: Quebec premier apologizes, launches review in Highway 13 debacle

It was 4:30 a.m. Wednesday before police and firefighters began helping to move out the stuck vehicles, and by the time traffic was moving freely once again, more than 12 hours had passed.

"It's unacceptable when you're stuck in your car for 12, 13 hours," said Coderre. "Of course, we will need to have some answers."

Lt. Jason Allard of the Sûreté du Québec said police received a call at 6:08 p.m. that there had been a collision involving a tractor-trailer on Highway 13 near the exit for Hickmore Street.

The tractor-trailer jackknifed across the southbound lanes, Allard said, leaving no way for traffic behind it to pass.

Patrol officers were dispatched and asked for plowing and towing support. However, by the time the support arrived, there was a long line of vehicles behind the truck, unable to move.

"They were basically snowed in," said Allard.

The Transport Ministry is unable to give a precise time as to when the highway was closed.

No mention of stranded motorists

Coderre has released what he called an "exhaustive report" given to him by his civil security staff, outlining what the city knew about what happened as the events unfurled.

The report says the Transport Ministry told city staff about the closure of Highway 13 at 11:50 p.m. but didn't mention there were people trapped in their vehicles. Then, at 1:40 a.m., Montreal city staff convened a second meeting, but no one from the Transport Ministry attended.

- DETAILS ON CLOSURES AND DELAYS | CBC Montreal Storm Centre

Stranded drivers made more than 300 calls to 911 for help, but Coderre said it was not until 3:30 a.m.that any city service was informed that there were hundreds of people stuck on the snowbound section of Highway 13.

That's when the provincial police contacted the Montreal fire service to ask if it had the capacity to help them with an evacuation of those stranded on the highway.

By the time the SQ made an official call for back-up, at 4:30 a.m., the firefighters had already decided to take matters into their own hands. After that, the city sent more help.

Why such a slow response?

The night-long saga had officials scrambling to explain the slow response in a province used to major snowfalls.

Couillard said the storm was "exceptional," but that means it deserved "an exceptional response." He said there needs to be more communication between the victims and the first responders.

"I put myself in the place of the people who are still stuck in their car and and have no idea what will happen," he said.

"I would like to know there's someone thinking of me and who will take care of me. I think the least we can do is inform them properly."

Government will pay towing fees, Coiteux says

Public Security Minister Martin Coiteux said Wednesday afternoon that he needs more time to understand what went wrong on Highway 13.

Coiteux said there was a communication breakdown, vowing to get to the bottom of it in the next 48 hours.

"We want to understand better the sequence, the co-ordination of efforts, how it worked," said Coiteux. "To have full information about this, we need to gather all the information."

Coiteux also said the government will cover the $218 towing fee that motorists who walked away from their vehicles in the blizzard were handed when they went to recover their cars Wednesday.

Harrowing night, huddled, running out of gas

For the first hour of being stuck, Marcy McCallum laughed off being stuck on a ramp going on to Highway 13.

Three hours later, she realized something was seriously wrong. She called police and, when she realized no one was coming, she started reaching out to other drivers behind her to organize a way for everyone to back out off the ramp.

There were at least 70 cars behind her. She spoke with the first 20 and dispatched others to tell the people behind them. But people started running out of gas and abandoning their cars, she said.

"That's the point when I started to lose hope," she said in an interview.

After calling police for a second time and being told no one would come with extra fuel, she tried to preserve her own by keeping the car off. She only turned her engine on once every half hour, just to warm up.

"I just kept telling myself this is going to be over any minute. This is really, really ridiculous."

She tried to rest in her vehicle for the rest of the night, leaving it off most of the time to preserve gas. Her car was freed when police created a path in the opposite direction at the Cavendish exit. By the time she drove away, it was 4:35 a.m., nearly nine hours after she got stuck.

Diabetic left with no choice but to ditch car

Some who abandoned their cars had no alternative.

Jean-François Grégoire is a Type 1 diabetic and had to flee his vehicle last night in the middle of the snowstorm, when his blood sugars dropped.

He walked for 20 minutes to get to his office, where he stayed the night. 

"I'm happy to have my car and to go home to get some sleep," he said.

- LATEST DEVELOPMENTS: Quebec premier apologizes, launches review in Highway 13 debacle