For almost 24 hours, Michigan resident Charles Bartold sat in his truck — stranded on Highway 402 outside of Sarnia, Ontario — wondering how he was going to get out of Canada.
Bartold, a trucker who crosses into Canada every morning for breakfast in Mitchell, Ontario, on Monday morning found himself stuck in a snowbank with high winds, blowing snow and temperatures in the single digits.
"There was nothing I could do … you couldn't see five feet in front of your vehicle," Bartold said.
Bartold was among 237 people rescued by snowmobile and military helicopter Tuesday from the highway on which they were stranded, some for more than 30 hours, since blizzard conditions overcame motorists on Monday morning. Many survived thanks to the kindness of strangers, including truckers who shared their cabs and others who shared provisions.
At about 10 a.m. Tuesday, a Canadian military helicopter landed 100 feet away from Bartold's truck and carried him to a warming station in Wyoming, Ontario.
"I'm so thankful for that," said Bartold, who hadn't eaten since Sunday.
"I've never seen anything this bad," he said. "From now on, I'm going to be bringing some provisions, dry food and water just in case. Thank goodness for the Canadian military and for the people in Wyoming."
Highway 402 begins at the Blue Water Bridge that crosses into Port Huron, about 60 miles northeast of Detroit, and runs through London, Ontario. It was within 35 miles of Sarnia that conditions became horrid and stayed bad through the rescue.
"We have rescued everyone that was stranded; 237 souls brought to safety," said Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. David Rektor.
"We're doing a double check of the area, including military helicopters that are checking secondary roads. But we are confident we got everybody."
According to Canadian officials, the heaviest concentration of vehicles is in an area within 35 miles of Sarnia.
Coordinating with the Ontario Provincial Police, the Canadian military used helicopters to help evacuate the stranded in an area the Canadian government had designated as a natural disaster.
Ontario Community Safety Minister Jim Bradley said Tuesday he had no reports of deaths or injuries among the hundreds who endured the long, frigid night on Highway 402.
Rochester resident Jim Vickrey was on his way to London, Ontario, to his job with General Dynamics Land Systems when the storm hit.
"I've been stuck on the 402 since 8:30 a.m. Monday," Vickrey said. "It was terrible … very cold. The wind was blowing at about 45 mph and you couldn't see 100 yards. The road looks like a parking lot with cars and trucks parked hub to hub."
Vickrey credits his military training with helping him to be prepared for the storm.
"I have a parka, plus I packed an extra parka, a blanket, candles, food and lots of water," said Vickrey, who retired after 21 years in the U.S. Army. "The driver in the truck next to me rapped on the window and offered me the extra bunk in her truck. All the truckers did that for the cars next to them. We shared peaches and oatmeal for breakfast."
Vickrey hoped to reach London by the evening.
While some motorists were confined to their vehicles, others made their way to emergency shelters, including the Sunset Golf Course, located a few miles off the road outside Sarnia.
"The golf course is closed, but we decided to open it back up today to help people stranded on the 402," manager David Primeau said. "We're cooking up coffee, tea, hot chocolate and soup. We're so close to where they are, plus we have a clubhouse, so it just made sense to help out."
Primeau said he was on the road on Monday when the storm blew in.
"You couldn't see 15 feet in front of you," Primeau said. "At one point, we stopped and got out of our car. We discovered we were about 15 feet away from a three-car collision; we couldn't see it from where we stopped."
Dan and Kathy Rolls, from Caseville in Michigan's Thumb, ended up spending the night on cots at the East Christian Reform Church in Strathroy, Ontario.
"We were returning from visiting relatives in New York, and it got bad as we drew closer to Sarnia," Kathy Rolls said. "The road was ice coated and the going was very slow. We helped push five cars out of the way. It was so cold, I had to wrap a scarf around my face to stop it from going numb."
Running low on gas, they headed into Strathroy, Ontario, looking for fuel and a motel room.
"All the motels were full so we were sent to the church at about 7 p.m. Monday," Rolls said. "They've been wonderful. Kmart donated blankets and other organizations have donated pillows, toothbrushes and toothpaste. Someone also donated stuffed animals for the children."
Because of conditions on the 402, officials at the Blue Water Bridge stopped truck traffic into Ontario; private vehicles were being allowed across but are being turned onto local roads.
The shutdown of the Blue Water Bridge played havoc with local trucking firms on Tuesday.
"Trucks headed to the Ambassador Bridge are backed up on Interstate 75 back over the Rouge Bridge," said Jody Weiss, senior terminal manager of LaFarge, a cement distribution center in southwest Detroit.
"We sent out nine trucks today and five of them have been stuck in traffic. They're going to leave for the night and come back at 5 a.m. Wednesday; hopefully the Blue Water Bridge will be reopened."
According to Weiss, truck traffic often backs up at the Ambassador Bridge if there's a bridge problem in Port Huron/Sarnia.
"They might get stuck for a couple of hours, but today is worse because of the weather up that way," Weiss said.
The cold system moving through Michigan since Sunday has been blamed for eight related deaths in the state. On Sunday, the powerful winter storm pounded the Midwest, blanketing Metro Detroit in nearly 7 inches of snow. Winds that gusted at speeds of 35 mph knocked down power lines to tens of thousands of people and kept crews busy working to restore service.
About 5,800 DTE Energy customers — mostly in Wayne, Oakland and Livingston counties — remained without power , the utility reports. Most should have service restored Wednesday, DTE officials said.
Operations were mostly back to normal at Detroit Metropolitan Airport Tuesday , one day after scores of flights were delayed.
Temperatures are expected to climb a bit into the mid-20s by Thursday and hover there into the weekend. There is a 30-40 percent chance of snow showers beginning Thursday night and carrying over through the weekend, he said.
The Associated Press contributed as did reporters Debora Van Brenk and Kate Dubinski of the London Free Press.