Quebec Slammed With Severe Winter Storm

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A fatal winter storm that prompted Quebec's premier to acknowledge the need for better responses showed no sign of letting up in the province Wednesday.

Environment Canada said southwestern, central and eastern Quebec remained under storm warnings as snow continued to fall.

The province was still trying to cope with snowfalls that began Tuesday and dumped 35 centimetres on Montreal by early Wednesday morning.

Other areas were also hit hard, with provincial police saying two men died after spending more than eight hours in their snow-buried vehicle in the Chaudiere-Appalaches region near Quebec City.

Police say a 911 call was made at about 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, at the height of the storm.

Police officers and ambulance officials were unable to get to the car because of the extreme weather conditions, said Lt. Martine Asselin.

A second rescue operation was attempted with the help of snowmobiles but the vehicles became stuck.

Searchers found the two corpses when they arrived at the scene at 8 a.m. Wednesday.

It was not clear whether the two men died because of the cold or from carbon-monoxide poisoning.

In Montreal, most schools in the area were shut Wednesday, the majority of flights out of Pierre Elliott Trudeau Airport were cancelled and thousands of drivers were stranded on snow-covered roads, unable to make it to work.

Premier Philippe Couillard said emergency services were badly managed in the wake of the storm and called for a thorough analysis to ensure a better co-ordination and communication among emergency services.

His comments came after about 300 drivers were stranded in their cars overnight on Highway 13 and nearly 200 Montreal transit buses were stalled on city streets.

"It's an exceptional situation but if there's an exceptional situation there should be an exceptional response,'' he said in Quebec City.

"It's a major event. We have hundreds of people stalled on our highways not knowing what is happening.

"I know that people are working hard on the ground but we have to take the lessons off of this situation and do much better next time."

Traffic woes were not confined to stalled vehicles.

Poor driving conditions resulted in several highway pileups, including two crashes a few kilometres apart that left at least three people with serious injuries.

Quebec provincial police said one trucker suffered critical injuries in the first crash on Highway 20 near Saint-Zotique in western Quebec. About seven trucks and their cargo reportedly caught fire in the accident.

Two other people were taken to hospital with serious injuries in a pileup involving about a dozen vehicles a short distance away. In that accident, a tanker-truck spilled about 20,000 litres of a toxic substance called sodium hypochlorite.

Christian Blanchette, a regional environmental emergency co-ordinator, said the substance was similar to bleach, but very concentrated, and was contained in the highway median. He said the snow turned the material into a jelly, making it easy to recover.

The slick driving conditions were also blamed for an earlier pileup south of Montreal when at least 50 vehicles collided at about 3:30 p.m. ET on Highway 10 in the Magog area. Twelve people suffered minor injuries. (Watch the video of the pileup above.)

In another crash blamed on the weather, one man died south of Trois-Rivieres, Que., when his vehicle collided with a bridge pillar on Highway 55.

The accidents and highway chaos were blamed on the same storm that buried much of southern and eastern Ontario on Tuesday morning.

In that province, one man died in a 30-vehicle pileup along Highway 401.

Provincial Police Const. Sandra Barr said the man was the driver of a truck containing the toxic substance fluorosilicic acid. His name has not yet been released.

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