Winter storm in Buffalo: Crews struggle to clear snow-covered roads for emergency responders


[Breaking news update, published at 10:49 a.m. ET]

The death toll from the winter storm in Erie County, New York, has risen to 34, local officials said Wednesday, as crews continued to clear roads and first responders checked on people they couldn’t reach just days ago as a catastrophic weather system swept across the country.

Of those deaths, 26 were in Buffalo and seven were in the suburbs, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference, adding that he did not know where one had been found.

[Original story, published at 10:11 a.m. ET]

Emergency services were restored in Buffalo, N.Y., as crews continued to clear roads and first responders were checking on people they couldn’t reach as a deadly winter storm swept across the country days earlier, officials said.

At least 31 people died in Erie County, New York, where Buffalo was buried under nearly 52 inches of snow and residents were trapped in their homes — many without heat as a snowstorm over Christmas weekend knocked out power lines. At least 25 more people were reported dead in the storm in 11 US states.

According to City and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, Buffalo and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said during a two-day effort, Buffalo Faro City and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Wednesday remained in effect in Buffalo, clearing at least one lane on every street to accommodate emergency responders. Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson said Tuesday that they were nonetheless hampered by hundreds of vehicles abandoned in the snow, dangerous driving conditions and snow-covered driveways, with emergency and recovery vehicles still stranded.

Poloncarz said the county is sending 100 military police officers and New York State Police to manage traffic restrictions “because it’s clear that too many people are ignoring (driving) orders.” Officials were also trying to coordinate fuel deliveries to emergency responders and grocery supplies to markets, he said.

“That’s why you need to be off the roads in these affected areas, because we need to be able to get those resources where they need to be, so the shelves are there and ready to go,” Poloncarz said.

Meanwhile, Buffalo is bracing for possible flooding as rising temperatures will melt a lot of snow and 2 inches of rain is expected over the weekend. The National Weather Service said there was little risk of flooding.

Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said authorities were now focusing on welfare checks and getting people to hospitals after hundreds of emergency calls went unanswered as the storm hit the area.

In cold, snowy conditions, “people … got trapped in their cars and died in them. We had people walking in blizzard conditions, dying on the streets, dying in snowdrifts,” said Buffalo Mayor Bailey. Rembrandt said. “We found out that someone died at home.”

Poloncarz told CNN on Tuesday that at least one death in Erie County was reported as a result of EMS delays. “Due to the snow, our emergency crews were unable to locate the individual,” he said. “They were locked down and by the time they got there it was too late.”

The storm marked the first time the Buffalo Fire Department was unable to respond to emergency calls due to poor conditions, Poloncarz said, citing the agency’s historian. Two-thirds of the equipment dispatched to help clear winter snow at the height of the storm was also stuck, he said.

Blizzard – which governor. Kathy Hochul called it a “storm of a lifetime”—many compared it to Buffalo’s infamous blizzard of 1977—a powerful storm that killed 23 people.

“The ’77 Blizzard is considered the worst storm in Buffalo history,” Poloncarz said Monday. “Well, unfortunately, this has exceeded the death toll.”

Fordham Avenue Center and the 1901 Pan-American Exposition block in Buffalo remained covered Tuesday.

Anndel Taylor, 22, was found dead after being trapped in her car during a snowstorm over the holiday weekend, her family said.

After losing contact with her, the family posted her location to a private storm-related Facebook page for help, and a man called to say he had found her, but she had no pulse, her sister said.

The severe effects of the winter storm were widespread, with at least 56 storm-related deaths reported across multiple states:

New York: In addition to the 31 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning incident was reported in Niagara County.

Colorado: Colorado Springs police report two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with a man found near a power transformer in a building, possibly seeking warmth, and another in an alley in the camp.

Kansas: Three people died in a weather-related crash, the Highway Patrol said Friday.

Kentucky: Three people died, including one in a car crash in Montgomery County, officials said.

Missouri: One person died after a van slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police say.

new Hampshire: A hiker was found dead in Franconia on Christmas morning, the lieutenant said. New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game spokesman James Kneeland.

Ohio: Nine people died in weather-related crashes, including four in a Saturday morning crash on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer crossed the center line and collided with an SUV and a car, authorities said. Pickups collide.

South Carolina: Two men — including a 91-year-old man who was out fixing a broken water main on Christmas Day — died in Anderson County’s storm, the Anderson County coroner’s office said. Another victim died on Christmas Eve after power went out at his home.

Tennessee: The Department of Health confirmed one death related to the storm on Friday.

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

the state of Wisconsin: On Thursday, the State Patrol reported a fatal car accident caused by winter weather.

A New York State Police vehicle blocks the entrance to Route 198 after a winter storm in Buffalo on Tuesday.

Crews were focusing on clearing critical snow due to potential flooding in Buffalo, officials said. Still, “the system should need about an inch of rain before flooding becomes an issue,” the weather service said.

City leaders are working with the National Weather Service “to reflect not only on what happened in the past week, but what might have happened,” said Daniel Neaverth of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.

All major highways in Western New York, including the New York State Thruway, reopened on Tuesday — “a sign that we’re finally getting through this once-in-a-lifetime storm,” Hochul said.

Another 1.6 inches of snow fell in Buffalo on Tuesday, bringing the total since Friday to 51.9 inches and the December total to 64.7 inches, the Weather Service said. Overall, Buffalo has seen a record high of 101.6 inches this winter, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.

He noted that conditions are improving and the lake effect snowfall has finally stopped. Warm temperatures are expected for at least next week, with Buffalo seeing highs in the 30s on Wednesday and highs in the 40s over the weekend.

Officials also responded to some reports of looting. As of Tuesday night, eight people in Buffalo had been arrested in connection with winter storm robbery, according to a tweet from the Buffalo Police Department.

“It’s horrifying that while people in our community are dying in this storm, people are looting,” the mayor said, but noted, “It’s just a minority.”

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