Days into a deadly winter storm that bedeviled much of the country, officials in Buffalo, New York, are 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 27 people have died as a result of the storm in New York’s Erie County as Buffalo was buried by up to 43 inches of snow and slammed with fierce blizzard conditions that made for blinding drives over the Christmas weekend. At least 22 others across nine US states have been reported dead in the storm.
The arctic blast also has snarled holiday travel, with nearly 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those, some 2,500 are operated by Southwest, whose pilots union chief Tuesday blamed the nixed trips on the storm and outdated IT infrastructure for scheduling software.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 up to 7 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.
The storm already in Buffalo has been deemed more ferocious than the blizzard of 1977, which left 23 people there dead. The weekend weather “was just horrendous,” Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said. “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 one point stuck in snow, with Buffalo “impassable in most areas,” Poloncarz said Monday.
“We had rescuers rescuing the rescuers,” Buffalo Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday, adding those problems have been resolved. But for a time, it was a “priority,” she said. “We needed to help the rescuers first so that they could go and help the public.”
Conditions improved Monday, making it easier for rescue crews to reach hundreds stranded, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “In some of these circumstances, some of these people might not have survived if it weren’t for the efforts of first responders to rescue them from vehicles,” he said.
Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned in the snow in Buffalo, New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven Nigrelli said. Authorities were going door-to-door, car-to-car, checking for people, he said.
As crews continue to dig out vehicles buried on snow-covered roads and highways, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul stressed the importance of abiding by local and state driving bans in Western New York. Buffalo, Lackawanna and Cheektowaga all remained under driving bans overnight.
“We have scores and scores of vehicles that were abandoned when people left during the storm,” Hochul said during a Monday news conference. “It is still a dangerous situation to be out.”
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.
Supermarkets in western New York were beginning to reopen Monday, with others expected to reopen Tuesday.
The state has stockpiled ready-to-eat meals, with thousands set to be distributed to food banks, though road conditions were paralyzing aid efforts, Hochul said Monday.
“We have a responsibility to have all these resources on hand. But, when Mother Nature literally shuts down and creates a wall that you cannot see past, it is not safe – for not just emergency vehicles but the trucks that are bringing groceries to the stores and the stores are being shut down,” Hochul said. “That is the paralysis we’re experiencing.”
President Joe Biden on Monday approved an emergency declaration for New York, freeing up federal resources to assist in disaster relief efforts in Erie and Genesee counties. Such a declaration is “crucial to assist our recovery efforts from this historic storm,” Hochul said.
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.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which closed Friday due to “hazardous weather conditions” and got 43 inches of snow, is expected to stay closed until late Wednesday morning, the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority said on Twitter. Pittsburgh International Airport was sending snow equipment to help Buffalo Airport reopen, it said Monday in a news release.
Across the country, cities and towns remain covered with thick snow. Over separate 24-hour spans, Baraga, Michigan, got 42.8 inches of snow while Henderson Harbor, New York, got 40.8 inches.
At least 49 storm-related deaths have been reported across several states:
• New York: In addition to the 27 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning has been reported in Niagara County.x
• 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.
• Tennessee: The Department of Health on Friday confirmed one storm-related fatality.
• Wisconsin: The State Patrol on Thursday reported one fatal crash due to winter weather.
• Vermont: One woman in Castleton died after a tree fell on her home, according to the police chief.