POLITICS

Newfoundland woman, kids, rescued after storm strands them for 21 hours

03/17/2015 04:38 EDT | Updated 05/17/2015 05:12 EDT
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. - A Newfoundland woman and her two children who spent 21 hours in their truck stranded in a fierce blizzard are thanking rescuers who reached them on snowmobiles north of Burgeo on Monday evening.

Donna Warren said they huddled inside the vehicle as wind gusts reached up to 100 kilometres an hour.

"We kept the truck going every 15 minutes because, although we had lots of clothes and a few blankets, we were still cold," she said Tuesday in an email.

"We had some food and water but we were very worried so we couldn't eat much. We couldn't see anything except for whirling snow."

Cellular and long-distance phone service to the region was knocked out. An RCMP officer and two ground search and rescue volunteers used snowmobiles to rescue Warren, her 22-year-old son Zachary and 12-year-old daughter Zoe.

Cpl. Dave Cooper said the family had been travelling from Corner Brook to Burgeo when their vehicle got stuck in a snowdrift as the storm raged late Sunday through Monday, dumping more than 30 centimetres of snow in some places.

Warren's husband, who lives in Burgeo, called police to say he had last spoken with his family around 11 p.m. Sunday in a small area of cellphone coverage 31 kilometres north of Burgeo, Cooper said.

Otherwise, the 150-kilometre stretch of Route 480, known as the Burgeo highway, has little or no cellular service.

Police and staff with the provincial Department of Transportation had tried late Sunday and early Monday to locate Warren and her children. They were driven back by treacherous conditions and impassable snowdrifts, Cooper said.

By late Monday afternoon the weather cleared enough for the search party to try again. Snowmobiles were needed to reach the stranded truck. The passengers were then taken by sled back to the rescue vehicles and on to Burgeo. There were no injuries reported.

"We are so grateful," Warren said.

Early Monday police also got a report that three men who had left Deer Lake at about 4 o'clock that morning for Burgeo had not reached the town, Cooper said.

RCMP officers along with transportation workers and Barachois ground search and rescue volunteers found their vehicle at about 7 p.m. Monday farther up Route 480 just north of Peter Strides, a popular summer cabin area.

Cooper said the men were in good condition and able to drive their vehicle to the Stephenville area.

Andrew Parsons, the provincial Liberal Opposition member for the district of Burgeo-La Poile, said the men work in Alberta and were trying to get home.

The incidents underscore the need for improved cellphone service, he said.

"The rescue was hampered by communications," he said.

Darin King, the provincial minister responsible for fire and emergency services, said telecommunications is federal jurisdiction.

The province has written to the Industry Canada minister about how best to encourage more cellular access in remote areas, he said in a statement.

In the meantime, Cooper is asking drivers to heed severe weather warnings. An advisory issued Sunday had told drivers to stay off the Burgeo highway overnight as plows would be removed by 8 p.m., he said.

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