WEATHER NEWS: Blizzard leaves at least 16 dead in Buffalo; across U.S., more flights canceled


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Officials on Sunday reported 13 additional deaths in Erie County, N.Y., attributed to the catastrophic snowstorm that has wreaked havoc across much of the country, bringing to 16 the number of confirmed blizzard-related fatalities in the hard-hit Buffalo area.

Rescuers have found additional bodies, officials said Sunday evening, but the cause of death for those people has not yet been determined. “The number will continue to rise,” Erie County spokesman Peter Anderson said.

The Arctic blast that reached its peak ferocity in Buffalo has spread a deep chill across much of the United States since Thursday, stretching from Washington state to Florida, with about 200 million people covered by a winter advisory, according to National Weather Service calculations. In Washington, D.C., the temperature topped out at 22 degrees on Christmas Eve, the coldest maximum temperature on that day since 1989, according to NWS data.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz tweeted a few details about 12 of the victims late Sunday, saying four of the people confirmed to have died from the storm were found outside, one was found indoors and another in a car. Three died after cardiac emergencies while clearing snow, Poloncarz said in his tweet, and another three died because emergency responders couldn’t reach them in time.

The oldest victim who has been identified was 93, and the youngest was 26, officials said Sunday evening. Later Sunday, the city of Buffalo confirmed that the number of deaths had climbed to 10 from the six earlier reported by Erie County. The toll is “expected to be much higher,” said Mike DeGeorge, a city spokesman.

The storm snarled traffic and holiday travel plans, with more than 5,400 flights canceled in the United States on Saturday and Sunday, according to Flight Aware. UPS and FedEx said the weather disrupted their operations in the Midwest, slowing deliveries.

As of Sunday evening, around 15,000 utility customers in Buffalo were still without power, officials said. Officials said the disaster may go down as the worst in the region’s history.

As the snow shifted south and winds subsided, crews were contending with power substations that were frozen and need specialized equipment for repairs, officials said. Some first responders required rescue during the storm, two warming centers closed after losing power, and crews dug out 11 ambulances on Sunday that had become stuck in the snow.

Photos: Winter storm unleashes severe weather across the United States

The operations center that handles 911 calls nearly had to be shut down after its fire-suppression system ruptured, causing flooding.

Poloncarz said crews had reached a home where local media had reported that a 1-year-old baby was being kept alive on a ventilator. But the rescue personnel found no one at the house and had not been able to contact members of the family, he said.

“It was bad, is the best way to put it. It was as bad as anyone’s ever seen,” Poloncarz said, adding that he has been in touch with the Biden administration as well as New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) about obtaining additional resources.

Hochul, an Erie County resident who said her own home was flooded and without power, said National Guard members were on the ground in the hardest-hit areas of the county, with more on the way, helping doctors and nurses get to hospitals and rescuing people stuck in vehicles. In response to questions from reporters, she said the Guard was activated ahead of the storm, but weather conditions slowed them from accessing the hardest-hit areas.

“This is a war with Mother Nature, and she has been hitting us with everything she has,” Hochul said. “This is one for the ages, and we’re still in the middle of it.”

She said she had spoken with White House chief of staff Ron Klain and was told that the Biden administration was prepared to approve a disaster declaration for the region within 24 hours once local officials submit a request.

Why this blizzard could be the worst in Buffalo’s history

Steven A. Nigrelli, acting superintendent of the New York State Police, said there were two cases of looting, which he described as “isolated incidents.”

The blast of Arctic air that has chilled a huge swath of the country since Thursday is expected to weaken as it drifts eastward, with temperatures gradually warming over the next few days.

The number of utility customers without power nationwide was significantly down from Friday, when it reached 1.5 million, according to PowerOutage.us. Only 17,000 remained without power in New York state by Sunday night, along with about 37,000 in Maine, the website said.

“This is not the type of system you see every day in terms of intensity,” Ashton Robinson Cook, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service, said of the Arctic blast. The storm pummeled the Great Lakes region with the heaviest snow, he said, and could still drop more onto the Buffalo area even as the cold air drifts to the northeast.

In Erie County, a ban on driving remained in place through Monday morning, and officials pleaded with residents to stay home to avoid getting stuck on still-dangerous roadways. The region received several feet of snow in a 48-hour period, and the snow was so heavy that certain high drifts could only be moved with a specialized snow-removal vehicle called a “high lift.”

In addition to frigid temperatures, wind gusts that reached nearly 80 mph over the weekend created whiteout conditions that blinded drivers. “It’s like putting in front of you a sheet of white paper and just keeping it there,” Poloncarz said.

He pleaded with county employees who have been home for the past two days to report to work and relieve their exhausted colleagues. “This was not the Christmas that we wanted,” he said. “It will be a Christmas that we remember.”

Giovanni Centurione, a 41-year-old Buffalo resident who owns a clothing store downtown, said he’s never experienced anything like this storm. During the most intense phase of the wind, he said, “in certain parts of the building, it felt like it was shaking.”

He described hunkering down in his apartment building in the Allentown neighborhood on Sunday, listening to a police scanner for reports of break-ins. Occasionally, he said, he has picked up traffic of stranded people seeking help, with emergency crews unable to reach them.

“It’s really heartbreaking,” he said.



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