Winter Storm Traps Hundreds of Motorists Overnight in Sweden

Winter Storm Traps Hundreds of Motorists Overnight in Sweden

Thick blankets of snow and strong winds trapped hundreds of motorists in their vehicles overnight on Wednesday on a major roadway in southern Sweden, forcing emergency workers to call for help from the Swedish military.

Rescue workers had evacuated all those who wanted to leave their cars by Thursday afternoon, the authorities said. But many cars and trucks were expected to remain stuck along a 12-mile stretch of the road, European Route E22, until Friday morning — and many drivers and their passengers had spent a difficult night and morning with few, if any, supplies.

Erika Sepeliovaite, 39, who had been driving home to the city of Malmo with her two teenage sons and their dog, was among them.

“Behind my car, there is a driver who is sick and people are trying to call an ambulance,” she told the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet early on Thursday morning. “It is terrible. We need water and food.”

Rescue workers reached Ms. Sepeliovaite’s car at 7:45 a.m. and evacuated them to a shelter 19 hours after they became stuck, she said.

The heavy snow was part of a winter storm that swept over Scandinavia on Wednesday, bringing cold temperatures as low as minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit to some parts of the region. In Sweden, almost 10 inches of snow fell in 24 hours in the area affected by the traffic jam — “a lot of snow in a short amount of time,” said Linus Karlsson, a meteorologist with the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute.

He said the institute had issued an orange warning, its second-strongest weather alert, on the evening of Jan. 1, and warned that the snow and wind could trap vehicles.

“We recommend avoiding traffic when we issue an orange warning,” he said.

On E22, traffic came to a standstill early on Wednesday as trucks became stuck in the snow, said Bengt Olsson, a press officer with the Swedish Transport Administration.

“This is a road with a lot of traffic, so it came to an abrupt halt and the lines grew quickly,” he said. “We could not get through with our plow trucks.”

By 6 p.m. on Wednesday, the Swedish Rescue Services Agency had contacted the Swedish Armed Forces for help: Several hundred vehicles were marooned in the drifting snow.

Within a few hours, 10 tracked vehicles and 50 home guard soldiers had been deployed to help evacuate people, said Janne Bohman, the head of public affairs for Regional Command South.

The pace of rescue and snowplow efforts frustrated some people, including Kjell Gabrielsson, a business owner who was headed with his partner to the city of Kristianstad before they became stuck in the snow.

“We sat for seven hours before they removed the center rail,” he said, adding that coordination among the authorities has been slow and inadequate. “This is a leadership issue. Not enough information is available for truck drivers who often do not speak Swedish.”

At first, dozens of soldiers and rescue workers had used vehicles to try to clear the snow, dig out cars and remove the center rail of the roadway so that traffic could start moving north in the open lane, said Raimond Karlsson, an information officer with the 49th Home Guard Battalion.

“Then we had to change strategy and use the tracked vehicles to transport people who had fallen ill,” he said, adding that soldiers rescued about 30 people with medical issues during the wait.

Linus Steffensen, a dispatcher with the Fire and Rescue Service in southern Sweden, said that crews had worked through the night to try to dig cars out but refocused on getting people to safety on Thursday. “This morning, we went over to helping people out of their cars and bringing them to a sports hall,” he said.

The southbound road is still stuck, mostly with trucks, Mr. Karlsson said, but the northbound lanes had been cleared. Transport administration workers will now focus on removing cars so that traffic can begin moving again, Mr. Olson said.

“It’s still challenging with some snowfall,” he said, “but the problem now is that temperatures are expected to drop drastically, which means the traffic will remain stuck and it’s going to get very slippery.”

On Thursday afternoon, 60 tow trucks were on their way to remove about 100 trucks and 15 cars still stuck in the snowdrifts, according to the Swedish Transport Administration.

“Many drivers are still in their vehicles, which they have chosen themselves,” the agency said in a statement. It estimated that the road would reopen on Friday morning.

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