Days into a deadly winter storm that bedeviled much of the country, officials in Buffalo, New York, are still focused on restoring power, plowing roads and checking homes and cars for anyone still stranded, with expectations more residents will be found dead.
At least 28 people have died as a result of the storm in New York’s Erie County as Buffalo was buried by up to 50.3 inches of snow and slammed with fierce blizzard conditions that made for blinding drives over the Christmas weekend.
At least 24 others across 10 US states have been reported dead in the storm.
The arctic blast also has snarled holiday travel, with more than 2,900 flights within, into or out of the US canceled Tuesday, according to tracking site FlightAware. Of those, some 2,500 are operated by Southwest, whose pilots union chief Tuesday blamed the nixed trips on the storm and outdated IT infrastructure for scheduling software.
Meantime, Buffalo remains under a winter weather advisory until Tuesday afternoon, with a few more inches of snow possible and a daytime high of 30 degrees falling to 26 at night in New York’s second-most populous city.
Conditions improved Monday, making it easier for rescue crews to reach the stranded, including people who “might not have survived” if not for first responders, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said.
But a driving ban remains in effect in Buffalo amid a two-day effort to clear at least one lane on every street to accommodate emergency responders, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Tuesday in a news conference.
“There’s a lot of roads that are completely blocked right now, that have no access whatsoever. And people are trying to drive on these roads or trying to get into these neighborhoods, and they can’t,” Poloncarz said.
“Please, please,” he said. “You heard the mayor beg, I’m begging: Stay home. If it’s an emergency situation, call 911.”
Other steps toward recovery include:
• President Joe Biden on Monday approved an emergency declaration for New York, freeing up federal resources to help disaster relief efforts in Erie and Genesee counties.
• One hundred military police from the New York National Guard are heading to Erie County, along with state police from other parts of New York, Poloncarz said. New Jersey state police will fill in for New York officers diverted to Buffalo, he said.
• Buffalo Niagara International Airport is expected to stay closed until late Wednesday morning, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority said, after snow equipment was brought in from Pittsburgh to help it reopen.
• More supermarkets in western New York were expected to reopen Tuesday after road conditions had paralyzed earlier efforts to distribute stockpiled ready-to-eat meals to food banks, officials said.
• Major highways — including the New York State Thruway, Interstates 20 and 990, and Routes 400 and 219 — have reopened, the state Transportation Department’s Rochester office announced Tuesday.
It was a signal, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a tweet, “that we are finally turning the corner on this once-in-a-generation storm.”
‘Gut-wrenching’ effort to check on residents plods on
The storm in Buffalo has been deemed more ferocious than the blizzard of 1977, which left 23 people there dead. The weekend weather “was just horrendous,” Poloncarz said earlier. “And it was horrendous for 24 hours in a row.”
Indeed, blizzard conditions were recorded for 37.5 hours, CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said, noting, “That just doesn’t happen.”
Even emergency and recovery vehicles were at times stuck in snow. “We had rescuers rescuing the rescuers,” Buffalo Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday, adding those problems have been resolved.
Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned in the snow in Buffalo, New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven Nigrelli said, adding authorities were going door-to-door, car-to-car, checking for people.
Three reported deaths in Erie County were attributed to EMS delay, while others involved people who were outside, in cars, had no heating or suffered cardiac arrest.
And the death toll is expected to rise, officials have said. Once roads are cleared, law enforcement planned to prioritize welfare checks, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Monday.
“I have a bad feeling about that. I think the death toll is going to go up. When you have 420 EMS calls that are unanswered, it’s just gut-wrenching,” the sheriff said as his team planned to help get “people to doctors, nurses, to hospitals and … dialysis.”
As of Monday, fewer than 10,000 customers in Buffalo were without power, Brown said. But getting the lights back on has been no easy task as utility crews have faced dangerous weather conditions, Hochul said.
As the storm trapped people indoors, electrical substations got snowed in and even frozen, meaning many residents had no heat. “There are some people that have been without power in their homes since Friday, we know that,” Buffalo’s mayor said, adding his own home had no power and the temperature indoors went down to 40 degrees, forcing his family to layer up.
More than 50 have died nationwide in storm
At least 52 storm-related deaths have been reported across several states:
• New York: In addition to the 28 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning has been reported in Niagara County.
• Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs reported two deaths related to the cold since Thursday, with one man found near a power transformer of a building, possibly seeking warmth, and another in a camp in an alleyway.
• Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Highway Patrol said Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died, officials have said, including one involving a vehicle crash in Montgomery County.
• Missouri: One person died after a van slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police said.
• Ohio: Nine people have died as a result of weather-related auto crashes, including four in a Saturday morning crash on Interstate 75, when a tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup, authorities said.
• South Carolina: Two men — including a 91-year-old who went outside on Christmas Day to fix a broken water pipe — died due to the storm in Anderson County, the coroner’s office there said. The other victim died on Christmas Eve after his home lost power.
• Tennessee: The Department of Health on Friday confirmed one storm-related fatality.
• Vermont: One woman in Castleton died after a tree fell on her home, according to the police chief.
• Wisconsin: The State Patrol on Thursday reported one fatal crash due to winter weather.
100 inches of snow sets Buffalo record
Across the country, cities and towns remain covered with thick snow: Baraga, Michigan, got 42.8 inches of snow while Henderson Harbor, New York, got 40.8 inches.
Buffalo has had the snowiest start ever to a winter season, with 92.7 inches of measurable snowfall from October through Christmas Day, according to the National Weather Service. The latest storm came just one month after the region was slammed with a historic snowstorm.
And thanks to another 7.3 inches of snow that fell Monday, the city has already reached 100 inches for the season — faster than any previous year going back to the 1880s, when record keeping began. Half this season’s record-pace snowfall has occurred since Friday.
Correction: An earlier version of this story gave the wrong time frame for snowfall accumulation in Baraga, Michigan, and Henderson Harbor, New York. Baraga got 42.8 inches of snow and Henderson Harbor got 40.8 inches over three days.
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