As a massive winter storm continues to blast much of the US with brutal winter weather – leading to at least 37 deaths nationwide – parts of western New York have been buried by up to 43 inches of snow, leaving vehicles stuck and power out for thousands during the Christmas weekend.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN the storm is the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long storied history.” The heavy snowfall and blizzard conditions made roads impassable with zero visibility, froze power substations and left at least 17 people across the state dead as of Sunday night.Western New York is drowning in thick “lake effect” snow – which forms when cold air moves over the warm waters of the Great Lakes – just one month after the region was slammed with a historic snowstorm.
As rescue crews and hundreds of plow drivers fanned out on Christmas Day, even emergency and recovery vehicles sent out to help have gotten stuck in the snow. Eleven ambulances that had to be abandoned were dug out on Sunday, officials said. “The rescue team was rescuing rescuers … it was so horrible,” Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said during a news conference Sunday. Many of New York’s weather-related fatalities were in Erie County, where some people were found dead in cars and on the street in snowbanks, he said.
Deaths reported in Buffalo “are people found outside and in cars,” a Buffalo Police statement read.
Hundreds of National Guard troops have been deployed to help with rescue efforts in New York. State police had been involved in over 500 rescues by Sunday, including delivering a baby and helping a man with 4% left on his mechanical heart, the governor said.
“We’re still in the throes of this very dangerous life-threatening situation,” Hochul said, urging residents to stay off the roads as a driving ban remains in place in Erie County through Monday.
“Our state and county plows have been out there, nonstop, giving up time and putting themselves in danger, driving through blinding snowstorms to clear the roads,” Hochul said.
As blistering blizzard conditions swept the region, about 500 motorists found themselves stranded in their vehicles Friday night into Saturday morning, according to Poloncarz, who described frightening conditions on the road“Think about looking just a few feet in front of you at a sheet of white for more than 24 hours in a row. That’s what it was like outside in the worst conditions,” he said. “It was continual blizzard and white outs such that no one could see where they were going. Nobody had any idea what was happening.”While abandoned vehicles pepper the snow-covered roadways – with hundreds of cars still along the streets of Buffalo – conditions are also difficult inside homes.Some residents have remained in their homes for the last 56 hours, some without power in the freezing cold, Hochul said during the press conference. This is not due to a lack of resources, the governor said, but rather a mobility and access challenge faced by utility companies.
As of Sunday evening, 94.5% of Erie County residents and 87% of Buffalo residents have had their power restored, Hochul said.
Still, there were 12,000 homes and businesses in Erie County without power Sunday evening, and many won’t have lights and heating back until Tuesday, Poloncarz said.