02/10/2017 10:34 EST

B.C. Highways Paralyzed By Winter Storm Of Freezing Rain, Snow


Hundreds of people spent a frigid night sitting in cars, buses or transport trucks as snow and freezing rain pounded a British Columbia mountain pass, preventing drivers from moving.

The Coquihalla, as Highway 5 is known, reopened between Hope and Merritt on Friday afternoon, said B.C.'s Transportation Ministry. It had been shut down for about 20 hours because of heavy snow, freezing rain and several crashes.

Mike Lorimer, a ministry regional director, said although it was not the first time more than 1,000 vehicle have been stuck for several hours on the highway, the duration of this closure and the icy conditions was unprecedented.

"We saw hours of sustained freezing rain, that's not a typical event for the Coquihalla," he said.

Crews are equipped for snowstorms that commonly affect the region, he said, but the icy conditions Thursday made it challenging for workers to weave through vehicle queues stretching seven kilometres along the highway to reach everyone.

"For the same reason they were stuck, it was the reason we couldn't get staff right into the thick of things," he said.

By Friday morning, everyone was contacted and crews were able to offer water, food and fuel, he said.

Although the highway officially reopened by 2 p.m., travellers took to Twitter complaining they weren't yet able to move.

DriveBC, the Transportation Ministry's route advisory, tweeted that delays were expected to continue and warned drivers to be extremely cautious on the slick highway.

Image from a webcam on Highway 1 at Rogers Pass on Friday morning. (DriveBC)

Lorimer said he apologizes to those who were stuck for so long, adding the incident is a reminder for travellers to have an emergency kit in their vehicles with blankets, boots, and food.

At the height of the storm Thursday, all mountain passes into the Interior had been closed because of a risk of avalanche or poor road conditions.

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