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Winter storm wreaks widespread havoc

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A blast of winter weather that included damaging winds and blowing snow caused chaos on highways in southern Ontario and left thousands of people without power, authorities said yesterday.

A major crash on Highway 400 near Barrie, Ont. left several people with minor injuries.

Local fire officials said the collision involved more than 70 vehicles and required a stretch of the highway to be shut down in both directions for about seven hours.

OPP Sgt. Kerry Schmidt said the driving conditions in the area were terrible.

“We have whiteout conditions right now—snow and blowing snow—we have zero visibility,” he said from the scene, where traffic was backed up in both directions.

Videos of the collision posted by Schmidt online show dozens of vehicles, including several transport trucks and one fuel tanker, smashed together, with numerous cars also in the ditch.

“This is not a good place to be out," Schmidt said. "If you don't need to be driving, don't be.”

Schmidt noted the fire department had to use the Jaws of Life to pry some of the vehicles apart.

“The collisions that were involved were fender benders piling in to one another to the other to the other,” he remarked.

Samantha Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Barrie fire department, said the collision occurred around 10 a.m. on the southbound lanes of the highway.

A 500-litre diesel spill caused by the crash was under control, she noted.

Ryan Harris said he was driving south on the highway when he came upon stopped traffic that stretched out in front of him for about a kilometre.

“Sometimes I can see the emergency vehicles, but there are moments where the wind is so strong that it's just a complete whiteout and the truck starts shaking,” Harris said in a phone interview from his vehicle.

“It's really bad.”

Authorities were dealing with other multi-vehicle pileups in other parts of the province yesterday.

Provincial police in eastern Ontario said an 18-vehicle collision in Champlain Township sent seven people to hospital, some with serious injuries.

OPP Sgt. Jason Folz said a 20-car pileup on Highway 11 near Orillia, Ont. occurred around 10 a.m.

There were no serious injuries in that incident, he noted.

Several hours earlier, there was a 14-car crash on Highway 115 near Peterborough, Ont., again with no serious injuries, Folz said.

“We're recommending people stay off the roads today,” Folz added.

“There are whiteout conditions happening all over the central region of Ontario.”

High winds that swept across parts of the province late Sunday into Monday also left thousands without power.

Hydro One said more than 175,000 people lost electricity in the nearly 24 hours since the storm hit.

Spokeswoman Alicia Sayers said that while the utility has restored power to the majority of customers, there still are hundreds of outages impacting more than 9,000 people across the province.

Environment Canada said the wind storm was starting to die down from peaks registered late Sunday and into yesterday morning, but gusty winds and blowing snow continued to cause treacherous driving conditions in parts of the province.

Spokesman Gerald Cheng said the winds still were significant—even if they no longer met the threshold for wind warnings in most cases.

“It is starting to abate but we're not quite out of the woods," Cheng said. "There's still blowing snow issues across a large swath of the province.”

Environment Canada's current forecasts call for wind levels significantly lower than peak gusts of 128 km/h that were recorded on Sunday in Port Colborne, Ont., Cheng noted.

Video footage shot at the nearby Niagara River showed large chunks of ice spilling over a retaining wall and onto the shoreline, prompting Niagara Parks Police to close some roadways.

Once the wind has died down completely, Cheng said deep cold is expected to set in across another large swath of the province.

Extreme cold alerts are expected for much of Northern Ontario in the coming days, he noted.

Further south, cities like Toronto can expect temperatures to dip below minus-15 degrees C, with wind chill values making conditions feel colder, he said.

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