27 deaths reported in Western New York from massive storm
Huge snowdrifts nearly blanketed cars on Monday and there were thousands of homes, some adorned with unlit holiday displays, that were dark due to a lack of power.
The massive storm is expected to claim more lives as it trapped some residents inside homes and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The extreme weather conditions extended from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the US population faced some kind of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures dropped significantly below normal from the Rocky Mountains east to Appalachia.
The National Weather Service said Sunday that the frigid Arctic air « enveloping much of the eastern half of the United States » will slowly move away.
Buffalo saw hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions that crippled emergency response efforts.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was blocked Saturday and she implored people on Sunday to respect the area’s ongoing driving ban. The National Weather Service said the snow total at Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches as of 7 a.m. Sunday. Officials said the airport would be closed until Tuesday morning.
With snow swirling across untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned an additional 2ft of snowfall was possible in some areas through early Monday morning amid 40mph gusts of wind. Police said Sunday night there were two « isolated » instances of looting during the storm.
Two people died Friday in their suburban homes in Cheektawaga, New York, when emergency crews were unable to reach them in time to treat their health issues. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said 10 more people died there during the storm, including six in Buffalo, and warned there could be more deaths.
“Some were found in cars, others on the street in snow banks,” Poloncarz said. « We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days. »
Freezing conditions and power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get anywhere in the heat amid what Hochul called the longest blizzard conditions on record in the city.
Ditchak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ont., for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by the wind and almost buried in snow.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, with their fuel nearly exhausted, Ilunga made the desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach nearby shelter. He carried Destiny, 6, on his back while Cindy, 16, clutched their Pomeranian pup, following her footprints through drifts.
“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” Ilunga remembers thinking. He cried when the family walked through the doors of the shelter. « It’s something I will never forget in my life. »
Weather problems for travelers have continued, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after a bomb cyclone – when air pressure drops very quickly during a severe storm – developed near the Great Lakes, causing blizzard conditions including high winds and snow.
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. According to poweroutage.us, fewer than 100,000 customers were without power as of 7 a.m. EDT Monday, down from a peak of 1.7 million.
The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called on its 65 million consumers to save energy amid the freeze on Saturday.
Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country, from six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky to a woman who fell through the ice of the Wisconsin River.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water pipes bursting from freezing temperatures.