At least 25 people have died in Erie County, New York, as a result of a massive winter storm which blasted much of the US in recent days, county officials said Monday, bringing the nationwide death toll to 47.
The updated number of deaths in Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo, comes as parts of western New York remain buried by up to 43 inches of snow, leaving vehicles stuck and power out for thousands over the Christmas holiday, just one month after the region was slammed with a historic snowstorm.
“This is a horrible situation,” Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said in a news conference, noting officials expect between 8 and 12 more inches of snow to fall between Monday morning and 1 p.m. Tuesday. “This is not helpful as we’re trying to recover and clear off streets and get into areas that still have not” been plowed, he said.
While driving bans have been lifted in some communities, one such ban remains in place in Buffalo, Poloncarz said, describing the city is “impassable in most areas,” with abandoned cars, trucks and vehicles scattered everywhere. Regardless, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia urged residents to stay home, he told CNN, to keep the roads clear for emergency crews.
Even emergency and recovery vehicles sent out to help have gotten stuck in the snow as rescue crews and hundreds of snowplow drivers fanned out on Christmas Day. Eleven abandoned ambulances were dug out on Sunday, officials said.
“We had to send specialized rescue crews to go get the rescuers,” Poloncarz told “CNN This Morning” Monday, adding it was the worst storm he could remember. “It was just horrendous, and it was horrendous for 24 hours in a row.”
“We’re used to snow here, we can handle snow,” he said. “But with the wind, the blinding views — it was complete whiteouts — and the extreme cold, it was some of the worst conditions that any of us have ever seen.”
Many of New York’s weather-related fatalities were in Erie County, where some people had died of exposure or due to cardiac events while shoveling or blowing snow, Poloncarz said in the news conference, citing the findings of the county’s medical examiner’s office.
The storm has drawn widespread comparisons to Buffalo’s famous blizzard of 1977. Poloncarz said in Monday’s news conference the current storm’s “ferocity … was worse than the blizzard of ’77.” And in a news conference Sunday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the current storm the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long storied history.”
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, Hochul said.
On Monday, Hochul reiterated her request for residents to follow local traffic closures so officials could continue to plow and salt the roads and remove the “scores and scores of vehicles” she said were abandoned.
“It is still a dangerous situation to be out,” she said in am afternoon news conference.
While abandoned vehicles pepper the snow-covered roadways, conditions are also difficult inside homes.
Some residents have remained in their homes for more than two days, some without power in the freezing cold, Hochul said Sunday — due not to a lack of resources, but the challenges utility companies face in terms of mobility and access.
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.
Buffalo will continue to see snowfall and frigid cold temperatures Monday, with a high of 23 degrees expected in the daytime and a low of 21 at night, according to the National Weather Service.
Winter storm warnings remain in effect in New York for Buffalo, Jamestown and Watertown and will expire throughout the following couple of days. Forecasts show Jamestown could see another 8 inches of snow, Buffalo could see another 14 inches and Watertown could see another 3 feet. Winds could also gust up to 40 mph.
Storm leads to loss of life across multiple states
Over the past week, the prolonged winter storm has enveloped a large swath of the US with dangerously low temperatures and wind chills, also bringing with it widespread power outages and thousands of canceled flights.
More than 10 million people remained under freeze alerts across the South Monday, including residents in Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham.
Subfreezing temperatures are expected across the affected areas, where temperatures will be in the teens and low 20s, potentially killing crops and damaging plumbing. The majority of these alerts are set to expire Monday morning as temperatures finally begin to recover from the polar air.
Nationwide, around 65,000 customers were without power early Monday, according to PowerOutage.US. Since the start of the storm, the number of outages has at times exceeded a million customers.
Electricity was not the sole utility impacted: Jackson, Mississippi, issued a boil water notice Sunday after its water system lost pressure due to line breaks “likely caused by the weather,” officials said on Facebook. The city — which just two months ago overcame a separate lengthy water crisis — distributed water to residents throughout Christmas Day.
The storm also snarled travel in the US during the busy holiday weekend, with more than 5,000 flights canceled Friday, more than 3,400 flights canceled Saturday and more than 3,100 canceled for Christmas Day.
More than 3,000 flights within, into or out of the US have been canceled as of 2 p.m. ET Monday, according to tracking site FlightAware. The total includes hundreds of flights canceled by Southwest Airlines, which acknowledged in a statement it was “experiencing disruptions across our network as a result of (the winter storm’s) lingering effects on the totality of our operation.”
Since the brutal weather’s arrival, multiple storm-related deaths have been reported across several states. In addition to the deaths in New York, the fatalities include:
• Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs, Colorado, reported two deaths related to the cold since Thursday, with one man found near a power transformer of a building possibly looking for warmth, and another in a camp in an alleyway.
• Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Kansas Highway Patrol said Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, officials have said, including one involving a vehicle crash in Montgomery County.
• Missouri: One person died after a caravan slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police said.
• Ohio: Nine people have died as a result of weather-related auto crashes, including four in a Saturday morning crash on Interstate 75, when a semi tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup, authorities said.
• Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health on Friday confirmed one storm-related fatality.
• Wisconsin: Wisconsin State Patrol on Thursday reported one fatal crash due to winter weather.
• Vermont: One woman in Castleton died after a tree fell on her home, according to the chief of the Castleton Police Department.
What to expect as storm moves away
The powerful system continues to move away from the Northeast, yet many cities and towns remain covered with thick snow. Over a 24-hour span, Baraga, Michigan, received 42.8 inches of snow while Watertown, New York, got 34.2 inches.
Meantime, lake-effect snows will continue to make for hazardous travel conditions for the next couple of days and conditions are expected to slowly improve over the week.
Lake effect snow warnings remain north of Jamestown until 10 a.m. EST Tuesday, an area where up to 18 inches are possible.
Lingering lake-effect snows blowing downwind from the Great Lakes will slowly become less intense, but the Arctic air enveloping much of the eastern half of the nation will be slow to moderate, according to the National Weather Service.
The low-pressure system is forecast to move farther away into Canada, while another system quickly across the northern US into Monday, bringing snow from the northern Plains through the Midwest.
Much of the rest of the eastern part of the country will still be in a deep freeze through Monday before a moderating trend sets in on Tuesday, forecasters said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct where Gov. Kathy Hochul described the storm as the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long storied history.” It was at a Sunday news conference.
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