After a deadly winter storm ripped through Buffalo, New York, with calls for help unanswered, officials say emergency services have been restored, and officials are clearing roads for first responders and conducting health screenings.
The storm caused mayhem as Buffalo was buried in 51.9 inches of snow and residents were trapped in their homes over the Christmas holidays – many without heat as the storm knocked out power lines. It also made roads impassable, trapping some of them in snow in freezing temperatures.
At least 31 people have died in Erie County, New York. It is also believed that at least 25 people were killed in 11 US states during the widespread storm.
“We have people who got stuck in their car and died in their car. We have people walking in blizzard conditions and dying in the streets and dying in snowbanks,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron W. Brown. “And we have people who were found dead in their homes.”
On Monday, there were bodies in a makeshift morgue and various hospitals filled up, Erie County Executive Mark Polonkars told CNN.
To complicate matters, the hazardous weather conditions made it difficult for emergency crews and firefighters to respond to calls for help. Even ambulances were stuck in the snow and were among the hundreds of vehicles that had to be abandoned.
Poloncars told CNN that two-thirds of the equipment sent to help clear winter snow during the storm’s peak failed. The Buffalo Fire Department historian said it was the first time in their agency’s history that they were unable to respond to emergency calls due to the severity of the conditions, according to Bolunkers.
He said one death reported in Erie County was attributed to EMS delays.
Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said Monday that there were hundreds of missed calls for help when the storm hit the area, and that as conditions improved, officials focused on welfare checks and getting people to hospitals while clearing roads.
Andelle Taylor, 22, was found dead over the weekend after being trapped in her car during the snowstorm, the family said.
After losing contact with her, the family posted on Buffalo’s Facebook page for help, and a man called to say he had found her and that she did not have a pulse, his sister said.
The family said that by the time authorities contacted Brown’s family Monday night to let them know they were willing to go out and rescue the woman, her body had already been removed from the vehicle and taken to the hospital.
As of Tuesday, Erie County has restored emergency response service, but officials are still pleading with residents to stay off the roads.
The driving ban remained in effect in Buffalo amid a two-day effort to clear at least one lane on every street to accommodate emergency responders, Erie County Executive Mark Polonkars said during a news conference.
Polonkars said the county is also bringing in 100 military police, along with additional troops from the New York State Police Department, to handle traffic control “because it’s becoming apparent that a lot of people are ignoring the ban.”
But even with the emergency services back, challenges remain.
Hundreds of vehicles left in the snow, dangerous driving conditions and snowy driveways create access problems for firefighters, said Peter Anderson, Poloncars press officer, and even emergency and recovery vehicles remain stuck in the snow.
Gov. Kathy Hochul called the blizzard a “once-in-a-generation storm,” which has been compared to the famous Buffalo Blizzard of 1977 — a powerful storm that claimed 23 lives.
The Blizzard of 1977 is considered the worst storm in Buffalo’s history. “Well, unfortunately, it has already exceeded the fatality rate,” Boloncars said on Monday.
The effects of the winter storm were widespread, and at least 56 storm-related deaths were reported in several states:
• New York: In addition to the 31 deaths in Erie County, a case of fatal carbon monoxide poisoning has been reported in Niagara County.
• ColoradoColorado Springs police have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with one man found near a power transformer, possibly looking to keep warm, and the other camping in an alley.
• KansasThe Highway Patrol said on Friday that three people have died in weather-related traffic accidents.
• KentuckyThree people have died, including a person involved in a traffic accident in Montgomery County, officials said.
• MissouriKansas City police say one person died after a pickup truck slid off an icy road into a frozen creek
• new HampshireA dead garden was found in Franconia on Christmas morning, said Lt. James Neyland, a spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game.
• OhioNine people have died in weather-related vehicle accidents, authorities said, including four in an accident Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer crossed the road and collided with an SUV and a minivan.
• South CarolinaThe coroner’s office said two men — including a 91-year-old man who came out on Christmas Day to fix a broken water pipe — died in the storm in Anderson County. The other victim died on Christmas Eve after a power outage at his home.
• Tennessee: The Department of Health confirmed a storm-related death on Friday.
• Vermont: A woman has died in Castleton after a tree fell on her home, according to the Chief Constable.
• Wisconsin: The state patrol reported a fatal accident Thursday due to wintry weather.
As recovery efforts begin, Buffalo is also preparing for the possibility of flooding as the massive amount of snow covering the area begins to melt.
Temperatures are expected to rise for the rest of the week, officials said, and work is underway to clear some of the ice banks to prevent flooding. Up to 2 inches of rain is also expected over the next five days, which could lead to excessive snowmelt.
The risk of flooding is low, according to the National Weather Service, which said that melting snow alone “rarely causes flooding.” The weather service said that although light rain is expected in the area, “it should take about an inch of rain for this system before flooding becomes a problem.”
However, Daniel Neifirth of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services said city officials are working with the National Weather Service to “not only think about what happened last week, but also what might happen.”
Hochul said all major highways in western New York, including the NYS Thruway, were open Tuesday — “a sign that we’re finally at a turn in this once-in-a-generation storm.”
Buffalo received an additional 1.6 inches of snow on Tuesday, bringing Friday’s snowfall total to 51.9 inches and December’s snowfall total to 64.7 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said Buffalo received 101.6 total inches this winter.
He noted that conditions are improving and that the lake has finally stopped snowing. Warm temperatures are forecast for at least the next seven days, with buffalo hovering in the upper 30s on Wednesday and the low 40s over the weekend.
“With the cancellation of winter weather warnings for Jefferson and Lewis counties at 9 p.m., this is the first time since 2:22 p.m. on December 20 that we do not have valid winter weather news for our area.” According to the National Weather Service in Buffalo.
As the roads were cleared, officials also worked to coordinate the delivery of fuel for emergency teams and groceries to markets, according to Boloncars.
“After the height of the storm, we received requests from local municipalities to help them with their diesel trucks,” Boloncars said. And we were getting specialized shipments for communities that might run out of gas so their trucks could stay on the road at all times. »
Neifirth said county officials have also been in contact with grocery suppliers to ensure there is product on the shelves.
“That’s why you need to stay out of the way in those affected areas, because we need to be able to get these resources where they need to be so that the shelves are already stocked and ready to go,” Bolonkars added.
The authorities were also responding to reports of looting. Eight people were arrested in Buffalo on Tuesday night on suspicion of looting in connection with the winter storm, according to a tweet from the Buffalo Police Department.
“It is appalling that while people in our community have died in this storm, people are willing to loot,” said Mayor Brown, but noted that they were “a minority of individuals.”