Dozens of Americans have died as a winter storm brought frigid temperatures and paralyzing snowfall totals to the U.S., and officials in the Buffalo area believe the death toll there will rise as rescue teams continue their search and rescue mission will continue to increase.
The storm dumped more than 40 inches of snow in some areas, and the nationwide death toll climbed to 49 on Monday, including 27 in Erie County, New York state.
“Unfortunately, they’re still looking for bodies,” Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramaria told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer.
Some died from exposure and others from natural causes, he said of people who have been found dead recently.
The commissioner implored residents, “Stay home. Don’t go out.”
Emergency crews will go to unheated homes and take people to warmer shelters, he said. Too many people, including residents just out to see the snowfall, were out in their cars and stuck on the road, hampering recovery efforts, he said.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz tweeted that 14 people in the county have died from exposure, three were found in vehicles, four had no heat, three died from “snow shoveling/(snow) blowing heart incidents, three person died after emergency medical treatment” services were delayed.
Unfortunately, the numbers appear to be going up, he told CNN.
“I know that many more bodies have been recovered and sent to our makeshift mortuary,” he told Wolf Blitzer’s Situation Room. “We have so many dead bodies that the various hospitals are full, we just have to go through and see if these people died from snowstorm-related deaths.”
“It’s just a horrible, horrible situation,” he added.
The deadly storm comes just a month after a historic snowstorm battered the region.
Snow continued on Monday. At a morning news conference, Poloncarz noted that officials are expecting an increase of 8 to 12 inches between Monday morning and 1 p.m. Tuesday. “It doesn’t help because we’re trying to rehabilitate and clear the streets and get into areas that haven’t been plowed,” he said.
While some neighborhoods have lifted driving bans, such orders remain in place in Buffalo, Poloncarz said, describing the city as “largely impassable” and littered with abandoned vehicles.
Rescuers and hundreds of snowplow drivers were scattered over Christmas, and even emergency and rescue vehicles dispatched to help were stuck in the snow. Eleven abandoned ambulances were dug up Sunday, officials said.
See homes frozen by massive winter storm
– Source: CNN
“We had to send out dedicated rescuers to find rescuers,” Poloncarz told CNN on Monday, adding that it was the worst storm in his memory. “It was horrific, and it was horrific for 24 hours straight.”
“We’re used to snow here, we can handle it,” he said. “But with the wind, the dizzying scenery – complete whiteout – and the extreme cold, it’s one of the worst conditions any of us have ever seen.”
The storm has been widely compared to Buffalo’s famous snowstorm of 1977. Poloncarz said at a news conference Monday that the current storm’s “ferocity … is worse than the blizzard of ’77.” The storm killed 23 people, including 22 in Erie County.
At a news conference on Sunday, the New York state government. Kathy Hochul called the storm “the most destructive storm in Buffalo’s long history.” On Monday, she asked President Joe Biden to issue a federal emergency declaration for Erie and Genesee counties.
“I spoke with @GovKathyHochul to get an update on the extreme winter weather hitting NYC,” biden tweeted“We stand ready to make sure they have the resources they need to get through. My heart goes out to those who have lost loved ones this holiday weekend. You are in my prayers and Jill’s.”
Hundreds of National Guard soldiers have been deployed to assist with relief efforts in New York. Hochul said state police had been involved in more than 500 rescues as of Sunday, including delivering babies.
While abandoned vehicles littered the snow-covered roads, conditions inside the homes were also difficult.
Hochul said Sunday that some residents had been at home for more than two days, and some were without power in the freezing cold — not because of a lack of resources, but because of mobility and access challenges for utilities. However, as of Sunday night, 94.5 percent of Erie County residents and 87 percent of Buffalo residents had power restored, Hochul said.
Fewer than 10,000 customers were without power as of Monday and the temperature in his own home dropped to 40 degrees, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said at an afternoon news conference. “We certainly understand the challenges that so many families are going through and the frustration that people face.”
The winter storm warning for Jefferson and Lewis counties in New York state is in effect until 1 p.m. Tuesday. According to the National Weather Service, forecasts show another 8 to 16 inches of snow could fall. Erie County could see another 4 to 8 inches and is under a winter weather advisory.
In pictures: Winter storms affecting the US
The protracted winter storm blanketed swaths of the country with dangerously low temperatures and windy winds over the past week, bringing widespread power outages and the cancellation of thousands of flights.
About 25,700 customers were without power Monday night in New York and Maine, according to PowerOutage.US. The number of customers without power has at times exceeded 1 million since the storm began.
Electricity wasn’t the only utility affected: Jackson, Mississippi issued a boiling water notice on Sunday after its water system lost pressure due to a “possibly weather-induced” outage, officials said on Facebook. The city – which had just overcome a long-running water crisis just two months ago – distributed water to residents throughout the Christmas period.
The storm also affected U.S. travel during the busy holiday weekend, canceling more than 5,000 flights on Friday, 3,400 on Saturday and 3,100 on Christmas Day.
About 3,800 flights in and out of U.S. airports had been canceled as of 7 p.m. ET Monday, according to tracking site FlightAware. The total includes more than 2,500 flights canceled by Southwest Airlines, according to FlightAware.
Southwest Airlines said in a statement: “Our network has experienced several consecutive days of extreme winter weather, and the ongoing challenges are impacting our customers and employees in unacceptably significant ways.
“Our heartfelt apologies for this are just the beginning.”
Another 7,000 U.S. flights were delayed, according to FlightAware.
Separately, Buffalo Niagara International Airport was closed Friday due to “severe weather conditions” that saw 43 inches of snow fall and is expected to remain closed until late Wednesday morning, the Niagara Border Transportation Authority said tweeted. Suspension means Buffalo Sabers’ NHL game in Columbus will be postponed as team can’t fly to Ohio State, Sabers officials Say.
Multiple storm-related deaths have been reported in several states since the severe weather arrived. In addition to the deaths in New York, the death toll includes:
• ColoradoPolice in Colorado Springs report two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with a man found near an electrical transformer in a building he may have sought to heat and another In the alley camp.
• Kansas: Three people died in a weather-related crash, the Highway Patrol said Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, including one in a car crash in Montgomery County, officials said.
• Missouri: Kansas City police say one person died after a caravan slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek.
• OhioNine people died in weather-related crashes, including one Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer crossed the center line and collided with an SUV and a pickup, authorities said .
• Tennessee: The Department of Health confirmed one death related to the storm on Friday.
• the state of Wisconsin: On Thursday, the State Patrol reported a fatal car accident caused by winter weather.
• Vermont: A Castleton woman died after a tree fell on her home, according to the police chief.
The strong system continues to move away from the northeast, but many towns are still covered in thick snow. In varying 24-hour spans, 42.8 inches of snow fell in Baraga, MI, and 40.8 inches fell in Port Henderson, NY.
Meanwhile, lake effect snow will continue to create hazardous travel conditions over the next few days, with conditions expected to slowly improve over the course of the week.
The lingering lake-effect snowfall, blowing downwind from the Great Lakes, will slowly become less intense, but the arctic air enveloping much of the eastern United States will be slow to moderate, according to the National Weather Service.
The low-pressure system is expected to move further into Canada, while another system will move rapidly across the northern U.S. into Monday, bringing snow from the northern Plains to the Midwest.
Much of the rest of the eastern part of the country will remain bitterly cold on Monday before easing on Tuesday, forecasters said.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct Gov. Kathy Hochul’s description of the storm as “the most destructive storm in Buffalo’s long history.” That was at a press conference on Sunday.