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Crews focus on calls for help as Buffalo, New York, emerges from snow and area death toll rises to 28

days in a deadly winter storm that plagued much of the country, officials in Buffalo, New York, are focused on restoring power, clearing roads and checking homes and cars for people still stranded, in the hope that more dead residents will be found.

At least 28 people have died as a result of the storm in New York’s Erie County as Buffalo was buried by up to 50.3 inches of snow and battered by ferocious blizzard conditions that made to blind units during the Christmas weekend. At least 24 others in 10 US states were reported to have died in the storm.

The Arctic explosion has also hampered holiday travel, with more than 2,900 flights in, to or from the US canceled on Tuesday. according to the FlightAware tracking site. Of them, about 2,500 are operated by southwestwhose head of the pilots’ union on Tuesday blamed the prohibited trips in the storm and outdated IT infrastructure for scheduling software.

Meanwhile, Buffalo remains under a winter weather advisory through Tuesday afternoon, with a few more inches of snow possible and a daytime high of 30 degrees dropping to 26 at night in New York’s second most populous city.

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The storm already in Buffalo has been considered more ferocious than the blizzard of 1977, which killed 23 people. The weather over the weekend “was horrible,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz. “And it was horrible for 24 hours straight.”

In fact, blizzard conditions were on the record for 37.5 hours, CNN meteorologist Tom Sater said, noting, “That just doesn’t happen.”

Even emergency and recovery vehicles got bogged down in snow at one point, with Buffalo “impassable in most areas,” Poloncarz said Monday.

“We had rescuers rescuing rescuers,” Buffalo Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney told “CNN This Morning” on Tuesday, adding that those issues have been resolved. But for a while, it was a “priority,” she said. “First we needed to help the rescuers so they could go and help the public.”

Conditions improved Monday, making it easier for rescue teams to reach hundreds of stranded people, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “In some of these circumstances, some of these people might not have survived if it weren’t for the efforts of first responders to get them out of the vehicles,” he said.

Hundreds of vehicles were abandoned in the snow in Buffalo, New York State Police Acting Superintendent Steven Nigrelli said. Authorities were going door to door, car to car, looking for people, he said.

As crews continue to excavate buried vehicles on snow-covered roads and highways, New York Governor Kathy Hochul stressed the importance of complying with state and local driving bans in Western New York. Buffalo, Lackawanna and Cheektowaga remained under overnight driving bans.

“We have dozens and dozens of vehicles that were abandoned when people left during the storm,” Hochul said during a news conference Monday. “It’s still a dangerous situation to be outside.”

Three reported deaths in Erie County were attributed to the EMS delay, while others involved people who were outside, in cars, without heat, or who went into cardiac arrest.

And the death toll is expected to rise, officials said.

Once the roads are clear, law enforcement planned to prioritize welfare checks, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Monday.

“I have a bad feeling about that. I think the death toll is going to go up. When you have 420 unanswered EMS calls, it’s just heartbreaking,” the sheriff said as his team planned to help get “people to doctors, nurses, hospitals and…dialysis.”

As of Monday, fewer than 10,000 customers in Buffalo were without power, Brown said. But getting the lights back on hasn’t been an easy task as utility crews have faced dangerous weather conditions, Hochul said.

As the storm trapped people indoors, electrical substations were covered in snow and even froze, meaning many residents had no heat. “There are some people who have been without power in their homes since Friday, we know that,” the Buffalo mayor said, adding that his own home was without power and the temperature inside dipped to 40 degrees, forcing your family to layer up.

Supermarkets reopen as roads remain treacherous

Supermarkets in western New York were beginning to reopen Monday, with others expected to reopen Tuesday.

The state has stockpiled ready-to-eat meals, with thousands to be distributed to food banks, though road conditions were crippling relief efforts, Hochul said Monday.

“We have the responsibility of having all these resources at hand. But, when Mother Nature literally shuts down and creates a wall that you can’t see, it’s not safe, not only for emergency vehicles, but also for trucks that bring groceries to stores and the stores are closed,” he said. Hochul. “That is the paralysis we are experiencing.”

President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for New York on Monday, freeing up federal resources to aid disaster relief efforts in Erie and Genesee counties. Such a statement is “crucial to help our recovery efforts from this historic storm,” Hochul said.

Buffalo has had the snowiest start to a winter season in history, with 92.7 inches of measurable snowfall from October through Christmas Day, according to the National Weather Service. The latest storm came just a month after the region hit by a historic snowstorm.

And thanks to another 7.3 inches of snow that fell Monday, the city has already hit 100 inches for the season, faster than any previous year since the 1880s, when record-keeping began. Half of this season’s record snowfall has occurred since Friday.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which closed Friday due to “hazardous weather conditions” and received 43 inches of snow, is expected to remain closed through Wednesday morning. Niagara Border Transportation Authority he said on Twitter. Pittsburgh International Airport was sending snow crews to help reopen Buffalo Airport, he said Monday in a news release.

Across the country, cities and towns remain covered in thick snow: Baraga, Michigan, received 42.8 inches of snow, while Henderson Harbor, New York, received 40.8 inches.

The national death toll is 52.

At least 52 storm-related deaths have been reported in multiple states:

NY: In addition to the 28 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning was reported in Niagara County.

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

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

Kentucky: Three people have died, authorities said, including one related to a car crash in Montgomery County.

Missouri: One person died after a pickup truck skidded off an icy road and plunged into a frozen stream, Kansas City police said.

Ohio: Nine people have died as a result of weather-related car crashes, including four in a crash Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said .

South Carolina: Two men, including a 91-year-old man who went outside on Christmas Day to fix a broken water pipe, were killed by the storm in Anderson County, the coroner’s office there said. The other victim died on Christmas Eve after his house lost power.

Tennessee: The Department of Health confirmed one storm-related death Friday.

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

Wisconsin: The State Patrol reported a fatal accident Thursday due to winter weather.

Correction: An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect time frame for snow accumulation at Baraga, Michigan and Henderson Harbor, New York. Baraga received 42.8 inches of snow and Henderson Harbor received 40.8 inches over three days.

The CNN Wire
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