Crews work to clear snow-covered roads for emergency responders in Buffalo after storm that left 31 dead in area | CNN
After a deadly winter storm unleashed a fierce blizzard that swept through Buffalo, New York, with calls for help going unanswered, officials say emergency services have been restored and authorities are clearing roadways for first responders and carrying out welfare checks.
The storm wreaked havoc as it buried Buffalo in up to 51.9 inches of snow, trapping residents at home over the Christmas weekend – many without heating as the storm took out power lines. It also made roadways impassable, stranding some in the snow under frigid temperatures.
At least 31 people died in New York’s Erie County. And at least 25 others across 11 US states have also been reported dead in the widespread storm.
“We have people that got stranded in their vehicles and passed away in their cars. We have people that were walking during blizzard conditions and passed away on the street, passed away in snowbanks,” Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown said. “And we have people that were found that passed away in their homes.”
By Monday, there were bodies in a temporary morgue and various hospitals were full, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told CNN.
Complicating matters, the dangerous weather conditions made it difficult for emergency crews and firefighters to respond to calls for help. Even ambulances were getting stuck in the snow and were among hundreds of vehicles that had to be abandoned.
Two-thirds of the equipment that was dispatched to help clear winter snow during the height of the storm got stuck, Poloncarz told CNN Monday. The Buffalo Fire Department historian said this was the first time in their agency’s history that they could not respond to emergency calls because of how severe the conditions were, Poloncarz added.
One reported death in Erie County was attributed to an EMS delay, he said.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Monday that there were hundreds of unanswered calls for help as the storm slammed into the area, and as conditions improve, officials were focusing on welfare checks and getting people to hospitals as the roads are cleared.
The family of 22-year-old Anndel Taylor said she was found dead over the holiday weekend after getting trapped in her car by the blizzard.
After losing contact with her, the family posted her location to a Buffalo Facebook page to ask for help, and a man called to say he found her and she had no pulse, her sister said.
By the time authorities called the Brown family back on Monday evening to let them know they were ready to go out and rescue the woman, her body had already been removed from the car and transported to the hospital, the family said.
By Tuesday, Erie County had restored its emergency response service, but officials were still pleading with residents to stay off the roads.
A driving ban remained 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 at a news conference.
The county is also bringing in 100 military police, as well as additional troops from the New York State Police Department, to manage traffic control “because it has become so evident that too many people are ignoring the ban,” Poloncarz said.
But even as emergency services return, challenges remain.
Hundreds of vehicles abandoned in the snow, hazardous driving conditions and snow-covered lanes are creating accessibility issues for the firefighters and even emergency and recovery vehicles are getting stuck in snow, said Peter Anderson, Press Secretary for Poloncarz.
Gov. Kathy Hochul has called the blizzard a “once-in-a-generation storm,” which has been compared to Buffalo’s famous blizzard of 1977 – a powerful storm that left 23 people dead.
“Tthe blizzard of ’77 is considered the worst storm in Buffalo history. Well unfortunately this has already surpassed it for deaths,” Poloncarz said Monday.
The winter storm’s effects have been widespread, and at least 56 storm-related deaths have been reported across several states:
• New York: In addition to the 31 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
• New Hampshire: A hiker was found dead in Franconia on Christmas morning, Lt. James Kneeland, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, 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.
As recovery efforts get underway, Buffalo is also bracing for possible flooding as the massive amount of snow blanketing the area begins to melt.
Temperatures are expected to rise throughout the rest of the week, and work is underway to clear certain snowbanks to prevent flooding, officials said. Up to two inches of rainfall are also forecast over the next five days, which could lead to excessive snow melt.
The flood risk is small, according to the National Weather Service, which said that snow melting alone “rarely causes flooding.” And even though there’s light rain forecast for the region, “it should take around an inch of rain from this system before flooding becomes a concern,” the weather service said.
Still, Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Daniel Neaverth said city officials are working with the National Weather Service “not only to reflect back on what happened this past week, but also what potentially could come.”
All major highways across Western New York, including NYS Thruway were open by Tuesday – “a sign that we are finally turning the corner on this once-in-a-generation storm,” Hochul said.
Buffalo got another 1.6 inches of snowfall on Tuesday, bringing the snowfall total from Friday up to 51.9 inches, and the month of December total up to 64.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Overall, Buffalo has received 101.6 inches this winter season, CNN Meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.
But conditions were improving and the lake-effect snowfall has finally stopped, he noted. Warm temperatures are in the forecast for at least the next seven days, with Buffalo seeing a high in the upper 30s on Wednesday and the 40s through the weekend.
“With the cancellation of our winter weather advisories for Jefferson and Lewis counties at 9 PM, it is the first time since 2:22 PM on December 20 that we have had NO winter weather headlines in effect for our area. That’s one week, six hours, 38 minutes.” according to the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
As roadways are cleared, officials were also working to coordinate deliveries of fuel to emergency crews and grocery supplies to markets, according to Poloncarz.
“After the height of the storm, we were getting requests from local municipalities to help them with their trucks for diesel,” Poloncarz said. “And we were getting specialized deliveries to communities that may have been running out so that their trucks could stay on the road at all times.”
County officials have also been in communication with grocery providers to ensure there’s product on the shelves, Neaverth said.
“It’s the reason why you need to stay off the road in these impacted areas, because we need to be able to get those resources to where they need to be so that the shelves are in fact stocked and ready to go,” Poloncarz added.
Officials have also been responding to reports of looting. As of Tuesday evening, eight people have been arrested in Buffalo in connection to suspected winter storm looting, according to a tweet from the Buffalo Police Department.
“It is horrible that while residents of our community have died in this storm that people are out looting,” Mayor Brown said, but noted “this is a minority of individuals.”
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