Winter storm in Buffalo: Crews work to clear snow-covered roads for emergency responders

Winter storm in Buffalo: Crews work to clear snow-covered roads for emergency responders


[Breaking news update, published at 10:49 a.m. ET]

The death toll from the winter storm has risen to 34 in Erie County, New York, as crews continue to clear roads and first responders check on people who were unable to arrive days ago after the catastrophic weather system swept through the country, officials there said. Wednesday.

Twenty-six of those who died were found in Buffalo, while seven were in the suburbs, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference, adding that he did not know where one person was found.

[Original story, published at 10:11 a.m. ET]

Emergency services are back in Buffalo, New York, officials said, as crews continue to clear roads and first responders check on people who couldn’t reach days ago when a deadly winter storm swept through the country.

At least 31 people have died in New York’s Erie County, where Buffalo was buried in nearly 52 inches of snow, trapping residents in homes — many without heat after the Christmas weekend storm took down power lines. At least 25 others in 11 US states have also been reported dead from the storm.

A driving ban remains in effect Wednesday in Buffalo amid a two-day effort to clear at least one lane on every street to accommodate emergency responders, according to city and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. However, they are still hampered by hundreds of vehicles abandoned in the snow, dangerous driving conditions and snow-covered lanes, with emergency and recovery vehicles still blocked, Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson said on Tuesday.

The county is bringing in 100 troopers, plus the New York State Police, to manage traffic control “because it’s become so obvious that a lot of people are ignoring the (driving) ban,” Poloncarz said. Officials are also working to coordinate fuel deliveries for emergency crews and food supplies to markets, he said.

“It’s why you have to stay off the road in these affected areas, because we have to be able to get those resources to where they need to be, so that the shelves are actually stocked and ready to gone,” said Poloncarz.

Meanwhile, Buffalo is bracing for possible flooding as rising temperatures melt massive amounts of snow and 2 inches of rain is forecast over the weekend. The risk of flooding is low, the National Weather Service said.

For now, authorities are focusing on welfare checks and getting people to hospitals after hundreds of calls for help went unanswered after the storm hit the area, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said.

Amid the cold and whiteout conditions, “people … got trapped in their vehicles and died in their cars. We have people who were walking in blizzard conditions and died in the streets, died in snowbanks,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “And we have people who were found dead in their homes.”

At least one reported death in Erie County has been attributed to an EMS delay, Poloncarz told CNN on Tuesday. “Our emergency responders were unable to reach the person due to the snow,” he said. “They got stuck and when they got there it was too late.”

This storm marked the first time the Buffalo Fire Department was unable to respond to emergency calls due to severe conditions, Poloncarz said, citing the agency’s historian. Two-thirds of the equipment sent to help clear winter snow during the height of the storm was also stranded, he said.

The storm — which Gov. Kathy Hochul called a “once-in-a-generation storm” — has drawn many comparisons to the infamous Buffalo tornado of 1977 — a powerful storm that left 23 dead.

“The storm of ’77 is considered the worst storm in Buffalo history,” Poloncarz said Monday. “Well, unfortunately, this has already outgrown him to death.”

Fordham Avenue, downtown and Buffalo's 1901 Pan-American Exposure neighborhood remain covered Tuesday.

Anndel Taylor, 22, was found dead in Buffalo over the holiday weekend after being trapped in her car by the storm, her family said.

After losing contact with her, the family posted her location on a private Facebook page about the storm to ask for help, and a man called to say he had found her without a pulse, her sister said.

The grim effects of the winter storm have been widespread, with at least 56 storm-related deaths reported in several states:

New York: In addition to the 31 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning was reported in Niagara County.

Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with one man found near a building’s power transformer, possibly seeking warmth, and another in a camp in an alley.

Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Highway Patrol said Friday.

Kentucky: Three people are dead, officials said, including one involved in a single-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, said Lt. James Kneeland, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game.

OHIO: Nine people died in weather-related car 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 truck, authorities said.

south Karoline: Two men — including a 91-year-old man who went outside on Christmas Day to fix a broken water pipe — died because of 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 Health Department confirmed one storm-related death on Friday.

Vermont: A Castleton woman died after a tree fell on her home, according to the police chief.

Wisconsin: The State Patrol reported a fatal crash Thursday due to wintry weather.

A New York State Trooper blocks the entrance to Route 198 Tuesday after a winter storm in Buffalo.

With flooding possible in Buffalo, crews are focused on clearing major snow banks, officials said. However, “about an inch of rain should be received from this system before flooding becomes a concern,” the weather service said.

City leaders are working with the National Weather Service “to not only reflect on what happened last week, but also what could happen,” said Daniel Neaverth of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

All major highways across Western New York, including the New York State Thruway, had reopened Tuesday — “a sign that we’re finally turning the corner on this once-in-a-generation storm,” Hochul said.

Buffalo received another 1.6 inches of snow on Tuesday, bringing the total since Friday to 51.9 inches and the December total to 64.7 inches, the weather service said. Overall, Buffalo has received 101.6 inches this winter season, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

Conditions are improving and the lake-effect snowfall has finally stopped, he noted. Warm temperatures are forecast for at least the next week, with Buffalo topping out in the upper 30s on Wednesday and in the 40s through the weekend.

Officers also responded to several reports of robberies. Eight people had been arrested in Buffalo by Tuesday evening in connection with the alleged winter storm robbery, according to a tweet from the Buffalo Police Department.

“It’s terrible that while residents of our community have died in this storm, people are looting,” the mayor said, but noted, “This is a minority of individuals.”

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