Sixteen people have died after a freezing blizzard with high winds hit the Buffalo, New York area in a storm described by the state’s governor as “devastating”. The dead were found outside or in cars, and reports of more dead were being investigated Sunday night, Buffalo police said in a statement.
“Authorities have additional 911 calls regarding dead bodies that police are also working diligently to confirm and recover,” the department said. “BPD is also working very hard to complete welfare checks in an effort to reduce potential fatalities.”The death toll linked to the storm in the department rose to 10 from six earlier on Sunday. Police found a total of four bodies and confirmed there were at least six, the department said.
Outside the city, in Erie County, six more weather-related deaths were reported. The nationwide death toll related to the weekend’s extreme holiday weather was 46 by late Sunday. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said some of the dead were found after impassable roads delayed emergency responses.
Among the county’s deaths, reported in Amherst and Cheektowage, was a person who was inside the structure, he said. Others appeared to have succumbed to heart attacks while clearing snow, Poloncarz said. Diving temperatures can constrict arteries and raise blood pressure, increasing the dangers of manual snow removal. Their ages ranged from 26 to 93.
After surveying the damage, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, “It’s devastating. He’s going to a war zone. The vehicles on the sides of the roads are shocking.” Buffalo was under a driving ban, and Mayor Byron W. Brown said police were asking people with snowmobiles to help with search and recovery efforts. Hochul said the scale of the storm will be worse than that of the famous blizzard of 1977 in terms of its intensity and the ferocity of the winds. The storm has claimed 29 lives, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Center.
State police have been involved in more than 500 rescues, Hochul said, including helping elderly people get to hospitals and deliver babies. About 15,000 customers in Buffalo were without power, which may not be restored until Tuesday, Poloncarz said. “The substations were frozen. They were covered in snow. We had reports of 18 feet of drift at one substation,” he said. “And when they got to the substation, it was frozen. They still don’t even know the extent of the damage to the substation.”
Much of Buffalo is impassable, Poloncarz said. He urged people from areas where conditions have improved not to travel to Buffalo to rescue family and friends. Officials rescued “hundreds and hundreds” of people, some with snowplows because those were the only vehicles that could get to people stuck in cars, Hochul said.
“This will go down in history as the most destructive storm in Buffalo’s long, storied history of fighting many battles, many great storms,” she said Sunday. As of 10 a.m., the Buffalo airport had received about 43 inches of snow in the past 48 hours — or more than 3.5 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
There was a period of hours when officials could not dispatch emergency crews or Department of Public Works crews, Poloncarz said. It is believed to be the first time the Buffalo Fire Department has been unable to respond to a call, he said. “It was bad, that’s the best way to put it,” Poloncarz said. “It was as bad as anyone had ever seen. Energy company National Grid said the “unprecedented severity” of the storm prevented some crews from reaching areas where they were needed. The company said Sunday that restoration work was ongoing.
Buffalo was under a blizzard warning, but was under a winter storm warning Sunday afternoon until 4 a.m. Monday. The region, which includes Buffalo, Batavia, Orchard Park and Springville, could see another 8 to 16 inches of snow, according to the National Weather Service. The most snow was expected for the “southern cities” and southwest Erie County.
Officials pleaded with New Yorkers to stay home so crews could clear the roads. State Police Superintendent Steven Nigrelli said the roads were “peppered” with abandoned vehicles. “Stay home. Be a good neighbor,” he said in a nod to Buffalo’s nickname as “the city of good neighbors.” A major winter storm has hit most of the US with dangerously cold temperatures.
Last month, areas south of Buffalo such as Orchard Park received around 7 feet of snow. But Poloncarz said the situations do not compare. He said he had been in contact with the Biden administration to initiate the disaster declaration. “This is a major disaster. It’s that simple,” he said. “We’ve had other storms, storms just four weeks ago that dumped 7 feet of snow on southern towns,” he said, using the regional term for towns in southern Erie County. “They don’t match it.”
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