As police in Buffalo, N.Y., sift through 911 and welfare check calls dating back to the early days of the deadly winter storm, tragic stories emerged of those killed in the storm.
Among those killed was Monique Alexander, a 52-year-old mother who died in the Buffalo storm, her daughter Kathy Maccarone said. Maccarone said Alexander rushed out of the house when the situation deteriorated, saying she would be right back.
Two hours later, when she hadn’t returned, her daughter said she posted on the Buffalo Blizzard Facebook group asking if anyone had seen her mom. Minutes later, a stranger messaged her and asked to call her, Maccarone said.
“He just started crying right away,” Maccarone said. “He was also trapped and he was walking down the street and he saw her in the snow. So he picked her up and put her under the awning … so she wouldn’t be covered in snow again.”
“Her grandchildren are waiting for her to come home. We’re waiting for her to come home,” Maccarone said.
The death toll in Erie County, New York, climbed to 37 by Tuesday night as first responders went door-to-door and car-by-car to check on people they couldn’t reach just days earlier, as a snowstorm swept through the area, trapping residents and roaring through the holiday weekend Emergency Response.
Buffalo Police Chief Joseph A. Gramaglia said it wasn’t until Wednesday night that Buffalo police announced they had finished following up on unanswered 911 and welfare check calls — which at some point reached 1,100 .
Some officials who inspected residents arrived and found, in some cases, that they were too late.
“It’s a daunting and scary task that they have to do,” Gramaria said. “They’ve recovered a huge number of bodies, it’s horrific.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said some people were found dead in their cars, on the street or in snowdrifts.
Among the victims of the storm was 22-year-old Anndel Taylor, who was found dead in Buffalo after being trapped in her car by the snowstorm over the holiday weekend, her family said.
After losing contact with her, her sister said her family also posted her location on a private storm-related Facebook page seeking help and a man called to say he had found her, but she had no pulse up.
Also among those killed was Melissa Morrison, 46, a Buffalo mother of two whose body lay in the snow near Tim Horton She was found in a pub, her mother, Linda Addeo, told CNN.
She said Ardio was concerned about her daughter after her son saw a social media post on Friday about a body found near the coffee shop where Morrison lived.
On Tuesday, the coroner’s office notified the family that the same body had been identified as that of Morrison, Ardio said.
Another storm-related death involved a 26-year-old man, Abdul Sharif, who left to provide food to families who came to him for help Saturday morning, his cousin Ali Sharif told the U.S. CNN.
His wife – already pregnant and a few days away from giving birth – woke up that night to find him gone. Ally Sharifu said that after sharing photos of the missing man on Facebook in a desperate search for him, the family received a call that a man had been found lying on the street and taken to a children’s hospital.
Ally Sharifu said he eventually identified his cousin’s body at the hospital the next morning. Abdul Sharifu and his cousin are refugees from Congo who resettled in the United States in 2017 after living in a refugee camp in Burundi for about five years, Ally Sharifu said.
“These stories are heartbreaking, literally heartbreaking,” said Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
The police chief said he expected rising temperatures in the coming days to melt the snow and uncover more storm victims. Gramaglia said officials will go out on Thursday to search areas where bodies were reported but never found.
The severe impact of the winter storm was widespread, with the reported death toll surpassing that of New York and 11 other US states. In total, at least 62 storm-related deaths were reported across the country, mostly involving weather-related traffic accidents or cold-related deaths.
Nine weather-related deaths confirmed in Ohio, two recorded in Colorado, three each in Kansas and Kentucky, two in South Carolina, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin One storm-related death was recorded each.
As emergency services resumed in Buffalo, the New York National Guard said they conducted at least 86 rescues, including taking a woman to the hospital before giving birth.
Police were also withdrawn and 10 people were arrested in Buffalo as of Wednesday in connection with winter storm looting, the police chief said at a news conference Wednesday.
But, Mayor Brown stressed, “it’s a minority.”
“In typical ‘good neighbor city’ fashion, people come together—they help each other. Neighbors help neighbors. Friends help friends, and members of this community help people they’ve never met before, ’ the mayor said on Wednesday.
Sha’Kyra Aughtry, a Buffalo woman, said she looked out her window on Christmas Eve and saw a frostbitten man calling for help in the freezing cold.
Aughtry said her boyfriend carried Joe White, 64, into the house, and she used a hairdryer to melt the swollen, blistered ice on his hands.
After she called 911 but no one came, she pleaded for help on Facebook and eventually got White to the hospital with the help of Good Samaritans who rescued them with a snowplow, Ogletree said. out.
Social media also proved helpful when a woman gave birth two days before Christmas.
By the time Erica Thomas started contractions, winter storm snow had piled up about half way through the front door of her Buffalo home, keeping her and her husband, Davon Thomas, out.
The soon-to-be father called 911 for help and was told they would dispatch an emergency vehicle as soon as possible. He was later told that rescuers had tried unsuccessfully to get to the home.
Davon Thomas called a friend who was posting for the couple on a Buffalo Facebook group for help, and the couple eventually got in touch with Raymonda Reynolds, who Raymonda Reynolds is an experienced midwife with five years experience.
Reynolds and her friend, doula and nurse Eva Blackburn, video-called the couple to guide them through delivery and cord cutting.
“We started screaming like the Buffalo Bills had scored a touchdown,” Reynolds said describing the moment the baby girl was born. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever been a part of.”
In another act of kindness, Buffalo Barbershop owner Craig Elston finally opened his shop to let people shelter from the storm. “A lot of people sleep in barber chairs, and a lot of people put chairs together,” Elston said.
“I’m just thinking about keeping people warm. It’s really that simple,” he said.
After six days of travel restrictions amid unsafe road conditions, Buffalo will lift its winter storm driving ban at midnight Thursday and replace it with a travel advisory, Poloncarz announced.
Buffalo has had a driving ban in place since Friday morning.
“We’ve got a long way to go, but we’ve come a long way in just a few days. This will allow our residents to get back to work – allowing them to go to supermarkets, pharmacies, and to make medical appointments, ’ said Mayor Brown.
Poloncarz was asked on Wednesday about the timing of the driving ban and whether an earlier ban had been discussed among officials.
Poloncarz said officials began discussing a possible ban Thursday, but they initially thought the snow would not reach Erie County until 10 a.m. the next morning.
He noted that temperatures “dropped sharply” on Friday morning after the ban was issued, but there was no power outage until about 10 a.m.
“If you want to blame anyone, you can blame me. I’m the one who has to make the final decision on behalf of the county,” Poloncarz said.
Poloncarz also criticized the Buffalo mayor’s handling of the storm cleanup, saying Brown did not hold daily coordination calls with other municipalities and the city was slow to reopen.
Asked about the comments, the mayor told CNN, “I’m not worried about those comments, I’m worried about the residents of the city of Buffalo.”
Brown announced in a Wednesday night update that hundreds of pieces of equipment were plowing and hauling snow Wednesday, and most streets in Buffalo were trafficable by night.
Erie County officials said there were fears of “rapid melt” leading to flooding as temperatures rose.
Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services Commissioner Daniel J. Neaverth, Jr. said they feel “very comfortable” with being positioned to handle potential flooding.
“We have ample supplies ready to deploy with personnel in the event of some type of flooding,” Neaverth said.