At least 15 people are dead in Canada after a crash between a semi-trailer truck and a vehicle used to transport elderly and physically disabled people, as crews mount one of the largest-ever emergency responses in the region.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in the province of Manitoba said as of Thursday evening, 15 people had been killed in the crash and 10 others taken to hospitals with injuries.
“This is a day in Manitoba and across Canada that will be remembered as one of tragedy and incredible sadness,” commanding officer Rob Hill said at a news conference. “To all those waiting, I can’t imagine how difficult it is not knowing if the person you love the most will be making it home tonight. I’m so sorry we can not get you the definitive answers you need more quickly.”
The RCMP’s major crime services has now taken over the investigation.
Shortly before noon a semi-truck collided with a bus carrying mostly seniors, en route to a local casino. The crash happened near the community of Carberry on Thursday, 100 miles (160km) west of Winnipeg. The drivers of both vehicles survived and are currently in hospital.
“This incident does have echoes of the tragic collision that happened in Humboldt, Saskatchewan, and we are very much aware of that. We have already linked into the investigators in Saskatchewan, who have first-hand experience,” said superintendent Rob Lasson of the major crimes unit, referring to the 2018 crash that left 15 people dead, the majority of whom were young hockey players.
Images on social media showed the Handi-Transit vehicle engulfed in flame. Subsequent images show the vehicle with its roof burned off.
Manitoba resident Tracy Leitch was traveling on the highway when she spotted smoke ahead, eventually passing a heavily damaged semi truck and another crumpled vehicle.
“There was nothing left of the vehicle,” she told CTV News. “I was almost in tears and almost had a panic attack. Like I just felt really sick to my stomach.”
Trucker Caroline Bleackley passed through the intersections of two highways around noon when she spotted the scene of the collision.
“I have seen collisions before, but not like this, not of this magnitude,” she told the Winnipeg Free Press. “There was a lot of damage … It was pretty sad to see.””
A spokesperson for the Shock Trauma Air Rescue Service (Stars) air ambulance service said the scene was “in line with the similar large incidents that we responded to in the past, such as the tragedy with Humboldt Broncos, the incident in James Smith Cree Nation.” The service sent 14 physicians, paramedics and nurses as well as two helicopters and two planes to the scene.
Winnipeg’s Health Sciences Centre hospital declared a code orange, a designation used for mass casualty events. Other hospitals in the area were preparing to receive an influx of patients.
The head of the Day & Ross trucking company, whose truck was involved in the crash, said they were heartbroken by the tragic news.
“The thoughts of the entire Day & Ross team are with those who have lost loved ones in this terrible incident, and we are holding out hope that those injured will recover,” CEO William Doherty said in a statement. “We will fully cooperate with the investigation and offer any assistance and support that we can.”
Political leaders issued statements of condolence.
“Our hearts are broken, and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of all the lives impacted by the horrific and devastating tragedy near the Town of Carberry,” Manitoba’s premier, Heather Stefanson, said in a statement. Flags at the province’s legislative building will be lowered to half mast.
The Conservative leader, Pierre Poilievre, tweeted: “My heart is broken to hear of the victims in the horrific crash near Carberry, Manitoba earlier today.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said: “The news from Carberry, Manitoba, is incredibly tragic. I’m sending my deepest condolences to those who lost loved ones today, and I’m keeping the injured in my thoughts. I cannot imagine the pain those affected are feeling – but Canadians are here for you.”