A 23-year-old woman, a four-year-old girl and a two-year-old boy were killed Thursday morning when the compact car they were in crashed head-on with a truck about 180 kilometres northwest of Edmonton. Three others were seriously injured.
Mounties say it was snowing heavily at the time and visibility was poor.
The driver of the truck, a 46 year-old male, is facing several charges, including dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.
South of Edmonton, road conditions weren't any better. Mounties say just before noon, multiple collisions happened within a half-kilometre of each other. At least 100 vehicles were involved and at least 45 vehicles were damaged, say police.
"And from that collision we ended up getting a chain reaction, so multiple other collisions occurred from there, due to the poor visibility and the icy roads," said Const. Karolina Malik.
About 22 people went to area hospitals, including a man with serious injuries. The RCMP said the man was outside his vehicle after being involved in a collision and he was found under a semi-trailer.
Kerry Williamson, with Alberta Health Services, said Thursday that about 80 others were treated at the crash site for minor to moderate injuries.
The crashes involved a large passenger bus and several semi-trucks.
Robert Mitchell was on a Greyhound bus at the time.
"It was like a domino effect — one vehicle after another, just smashing, smashing, smashing until about 60-70 cars," he told CTV Edmonton.
A cattle liner carrying 74 head of cattle was involved in the monstrous crash. Police said late Thursday that the cattle were being transferred to another cattle liner. Two cattle, however, were injured in the crash and had to be put down.
"The cattle have been in this liner since about noon today and finally they've gotten another liner there and they have to get these 60-worked up cattle out and into a new one," said Cpl. Colette Zazalak.
A bus passenger tweeted a photo of the mayhem, calling it a massive pileup, but adding that everyone on the bus was all right.
"Hitchhiking my way to Edmonton via Wetaskiwin on country roads," Derek Fildebrandt wrote in another tweet. "Found a Tim Hortons. There is a God."
Paramedics, EMS crews and firefighters trudged through the snow, going from vehicle to vehicle, to check on those inside, Williamson said.
They commandeered three Greyhound buses on the highway and used them as triage centres, he said. Police also escorted four Edmonton transit buses to the scene to provide shelter to motorists who were stranded.
STARS air ambulance had to turn down requests to ferry patients because of the bad weather, said spokesman Cam Heke. The helicopters simply couldn't get in the air.
RCMP closed a 60-kilometre stretch of Highway 2 — the main road between Edmonton and Calgary — and redirected traffic away from the scene. The highway was reopened in both directions just before midnight MDT, about 12 hours after the crashes.
Police said "treacherous" road conditions remained on the QE II south of Edmonton, all the way to Red Deer.
"Unless travel is absolutely critical, police request the public stay off all area highways," police said.
Mounties in Saskatchewan also issued travel warnings and closed highways due to heavy snow, winds and icy conditions.
"There has been instances of people driving past these warnings getting stranded, even cases of barricades being moved and then continuing on past road closed signs," said RCMP Regina Sgt. Doug Coleman.
"This storm is of such severity that it makes it difficult to impossible even for emergency personnel to be on the roads."
Coleman said in a news release that people were stranded on the Trans-Canada Highway overnight Wednesday, and officers couldn't get out to get them until Thursday morning.
Police said numerous motorists were stranded on Highway 17 north of Lloydminster on the Alberta-Saskatchewan boundary.
Traffic in both directions was at a standstill because of a snowdrift 100 metres long and more than half a metre deep.
Highway crews attempted to remove the drift, but blowing snow just drifted over the road again.