Anatomy of a fiasco: how the Highway 13 mess unfolded

Here's a brief timeline of the events that led to Tuesday night's mess on Highway 13, which saw dozens of motorists stranded for as many as 12 hours, in the middle of the worst snowstorm in decades.

Tuesday, March 14

2:30 p.m.: Government operation begins, about three hours after the light snow begins falling.

6:30 p.m.: Two trucks get stuck in the snow on Highway 13 south, near the exit for the 520. Hundreds of cars begin massing behind them, unable to move. The SQ say the drivers of the trucks refuse to cooperate when the tow trucks show up on the scene. Mike Burstall, the head of Burstall Towing, says he was called out at around 7 p.m. to haul away three trucks; two agreed to be towed, while the other refused.

9:40 p.m.: Three ramps leading from the 13 to the 520 are closed, while one other ramp is kept open. Meanwhile, other trucks stall on the 13 at around Hickmore, making the congestion on Highway 13 worse.

10 p.m.: an order's been placed for the snow-clearing company (Roxboro) to set up a security corridor designed to evacuate the whole of the highway via one of the ramps. By this time, the SQ is also trying to reach Roxboro.

Wednesday, March 15

Midnight: The first of two conference calls organized by Montreal's civil security department beings together officials from several city and provincial departments, including the transport ministry. A transport department official suggests he's about to close Highway 13. No mention is made, apparently, that hundreds of drivers are stuck on the highway. Another call is placed to Roxboro.

After 1 a.m.: SQ official suggests the evacuation plan, such as it was, was not executed.

1:30 a.m.: A second conference call is held. This time, the transport ministry is not involved.

2 a.m.: The SQ calls for a bus to drive out to the scene to shelter stranded motorists — some of whom have been stranded in their cars for as many as seven hours.

3:30 a.m.: The SQ calls on Montreal's fire department to help evacuate stranded motorists — of which there are roughly 300.

4:29 a.m.: Fire deparment vehicles arrive. Some drivers, and the city of Montreal, says the SQ were not involved in efforts to coordinate the evacuation. A half-hour later, three more fire department vehicles arrive. The firefighters arrive with blankets, portable toilets and bottled water.

6 a.m.: Operation begins to tow the dozens of abandoned cars and trucks.

7:30 a.m.: Snow clearing operation begins on that stretch of highway 13.

9 a.m.: Ramps are reopened leading from the 13 south to the 520 west.

11:40 a.m.: Highway 13 is completely reopened.