By Erin Crowell
Imagine being stranded in your vehicle for the night in the middle of
a blizzard. Hundreds of motorists have faced that peril this winter
in the storm-swept Midwest.
On Dec. 13, Shannon Kochisa stylist at Salone de Capelli in Traverse
Cityspent the day on her phone, checking for updates on her mother,
Terrie Gerbe, who was stranded in a snowstorm on Highway 22 between
London and Sarnia, Ontario, Canada.
I found out my mom was stranded through my dad, said Kochis. He was
like, Moms stuck in Canada, which didnt seem like a big deal at
A winter squall had swept through the Midwest, pounding unsuspecting
motorists traveling along highways 402 and 22 with whipping snow and
With just over an hour left of travel to her home in Oxford, Michigan,
Gerbe was returning from a shopping trip and visiting her son in
Buffalo, New York when traffic started slowing to a glacial pace.
Before I got on (Highway) 402, everything was fine until it started
snowing, said Gerbe. I was traveling behind a semi, which helped
tremendously because I couldnt even see the road.
Gerbe said she and other cars were diverted from the 402 onto a small
highway to Sarnia, Ontario; and with just 15 minutes to the border,
she thought her quarter tank of gas would be plenty to get her there.
Then traffic stopped.
Suddenly he wasnt moving along at all, she said about the semi
driver. I couldnt get around him and I couldnt see in front of him,
so I just waited. The traffic passing on the left had stopped
completely, too. Probably an hour had passed and thats when I started
to get concerned.
One hour in the car would eventually turn into 24 for Gerbe and over
300 motorists traveling between London and Sarnia.
Say a prayer. I had to shut my car off cause it looks like over night
is what they r saying. Facebook post on Monday, 6:07 p.m.
Several hours had passed since traffic first stopped, and a truck
driverwalking through the maze of cars to a Tim Hortons restaurant a
mile down the roadstopped to inform Gerbe they would be spending the
night on the road.
He asked if I wanted to walk with him to the restaurant and I said,
No thanks. I didnt want to be outside. It wasnt snowing really
bad; it was more the wind. The visibility was zero.
And Gerbe had left her coat at home.
I just packed a couple sweaters and a vest, she said. But, I had good boots.
She continued to wait in her car, turning it on every so often to
charge her phone and warm up the small space. Because it was a rental
car, Gerbe did not have a winter survival kit, which includes vital
tools such as a flashlight, blanket, first aid kit, hand warmers,
water and dry food.
An employee at Enterprise Rent-A-Car in Traverse City explained that
(Winter survival kits) dont come in the vehicles, adding she was
unaware of any rental companies that provide them. People just have
to bring those themselves.
Volunteers and emergency personnel via snowmobiles passed out water
and sandwiches to many of the stranded motorists on Highway 402; but
not on 22, because it wasnt the main highway.
And although she didnt have anything to eat or drink, Gerbe was still
faced with the challenge of using the bathroom. After several hours,
it was too much to bear.
I had to go between my car and the semi, which was just a nightmare
because I didnt have that much clothing. But then, once I was out
there, I couldnt go because it was so cold.
An article in the Detroit Free Press reported bitter temperatures
and wind gusts of up to 50 mph during the storm, with 12 to 20 inches
of snow. Officials deemed the 40 miles of highway a natural disaster
Its been 17 hours now. how much gas do they think we have? I have
had my car off most the night. no one even checks to see if we r
alright .if anyone knows me the inside of my car isnt pretty. I have
had about 50 fits in here. but it did generate some heat!! Facebook
post on Tuesday, 5:36 a.m.
Hoping to conserve gas, Gerbe shut off her car until the cold was
unbearable. Then, on the hour, she would turn it back on to warm up.
To occupy her time, she stayed in touch with friends and family
through text messages and Facebook on her phone.
I called her probably six times before I went to bed and updated
people on Facebook about what was happening to her, said Kochis.
Gerbe unpacked every article of clothing in her suitcase to pile on
herself for warmth.
By 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, I had slept too long because I was really
cold. Too cold, Gerbe said reflectively.
Kochis urged her mother to seek shelter with the driver of the semi truck.
Gerbe walked over to the semi next to her, and asked the driver if she
could sit in his cab. Like many other stranded motorists along the 22
and 402, Gerbe was welcomed into the warm cab.
There, she was able to charge her phone and warm up to a comfortable
Later that morning, Gerbe flagged down a snowmobile to get gas for her
car just down the road; but after arriving at the gas station,
authorities told her she was unable to return to her car.
I didnt want to leave my car, but I didnt have much of a choice, she said.
Gerbe waited at the service station with several other motorists until
a bus came to take them to a shelter that afternoon.
By Wednesday afternoon, the skies had cleared to a bright blue and
highway personnel started the process of moving vehicles and plowing
roads. However, when Gerbe returned to retrieve her car, it was gone.
They told me it wasnt there and that it must be in a tow yard, said
Gerbe. So I went back to the shelter, called the tow place, and found
out I had to pay $125 to get it out.
The fees didnt stop there. Gerbe was charged two more days for her
rental car at $350.
I had paid for extra insurance and thought my tow fee would be
covered, but it wasnt, said Gerbe. That was the only thing I was
really disappointed about.
Fees aside, Gerbe and the hundreds of other motorists are considered
lucky, having survived over 24 hours stranded on the highway. One
person wasnt so lucky.
On Dec. 17, Chatham-Kent police found the body of 41-year-old Neeland
Rumble. He was found in a field near Ridgetown, Ontario. His car was
just 50 meters away in a snowdrift.
Authorities arent sure why the man decided to leave his car, whether
it was to seek help or offer it, but they know he died of hypothermia.
Well its been a experience to remember! 48 hours of being stuck on
highway 22 in Canada. I am finally home!!!! Thanks everyone for the
phone calls and the messages on FB. It really kept me from being all
alone and very bored!! Thanks for all your prayers and thoughts.
Thanks to my family for listening to all my ranting!
Facebook post Wed., Dec. 14, 1:44 p.m.
Survival Kit: What You Need
Be prepared for the worst.
The following is a list of survival gear you should keep in your car
at all times, regardless of the season. Keep emergency and tow
company numbers handy, as well.
Cell phone and charger
Tow rope and bungee cord
Sand or kitty litter
Flashlight with extra batteries
First aid kit
Non-perishable food/bottled water
Blanket or sleeping bag
from the AAA Traffic Safety Guide