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  • The San Juan Daily Star

27 dead in ‘once in a generation’ blizzard in western New York

People stand and walk along a snowy residential street as a utility vehicle drives by them in Buffalo, N.Y., Dec. 26, 2022.

By Michael Gold and Mihir Zaveri

Four days after snow started falling, the Buffalo area remained crippled on Monday by a devastating blizzard that left at least 27 dead and that officials said was the worst winter storm in more than 50 years.

With many roads in western New York remaining impassable, thousands still without power and as much as a foot of snow expected to continue falling through the day on Monday, officials in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, said they expected the death toll could rise.

“This has been a very difficult and dangerous storm,” Buffalo’s mayor, Byron Brown, said at a news conference on Monday. “It’s been described as a once-in-a-generation storm. And everything that has been forecast, we have gotten in the city of Buffalo, and then some.”

As the storm and its effects lingered, some residents started to emerge from their homes, saying they were running short on food and other essential supplies. Brown said some residents and businesses had been without power since Friday.

A driving ban remained in place in Buffalo, a city of around 270,000 people, and many of its immediate suburbs as authorities pleaded with residents to remain home. Officials said that many of the city’s streets had yet to be plowed, with the early focus on clearing paths for ambulances, police and rescue vehicles and medical workers.

Complicating efforts, Gov. Kathy Hochul said, were “scores and scores of vehicles” that had been abandoned in ditches and snowbanks during the storm and had yet to be removed. In some cases, she said, snowplows and rescue vehicles had been trapped.

Hochul, a Democrat, said she had asked the White House for a federal disaster declaration. President Joe Biden said on Twitter that he had spoken with Hochul and would “make sure” the state had needed resources.

Mark C. Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, said authorities had identified 12 more deaths since Sunday that they had linked to the storm. The deaths included people found trapped in their cars and those who had “cardiac-related events” while removing snow from outside homes and businesses.

At least one death in Niagara County was caused by carbon monoxide poisoning, officials said. The county sheriff’s office said a 27-year-old man was found dead in his home in Lockport, New York, after heavy snow blocked an external furnace and caused carbon monoxide to enter the house. Another person was taken to a hospital for treatment, the sheriff’s office said.

Western New York, where residents take pride in their resilience in the face of brutal winter weather, appeared to have suffered the worst of a fierce storm that brought bitter cold to much of the United States. At one point on Friday, roughly two-thirds of the U.S. population was under winter warnings or advisories.

Other regions appeared to be recovering after strong winds took down power lines in the central, eastern and northern United States. In Maine, one of the states hit hardest by power outages, more than 17,000 homes and businesses remained without power on Monday afternoon, according to state utility companies’ maps.

But the storm has lingered in the Buffalo area. “We can see, sort of, the light at the end of the tunnel,” Poloncarz said. “But this is not the end yet. We are not there.”

After sheltering for days, many residents started to venture out of their houses, particularly to find food, although many restaurants and supermarkets remained closed.

Dave Lewis, 52, of Buffalo, walked for 45 minutes while navigating snow drifts before he found an open corner store, Buff City Market. Lewis said he purchased “tuna fish, jerky and pop.”

“I had to get food,” Lewis said. “I’ll take what I can get.”

The shop’s owner, Ali Omer, said a metal barrier he had placed over the window of the store had frozen shut on Friday. He managed to pry it open on Sunday, and residents had been pouring in ever since to buy whatever supplies they could.

Latasha Leeper, 38, paid a man $100 to remove a 4-foot snow drift behind her car that had forced her to miss her Sunday shift at a nearby group home.

Leeper, who cares for teenagers with autism, said three of her colleagues who were scheduled to work only on Friday ended up working through the weekend because others like her remained unable to drive.

“Our staff is struggling,” she said.

The snow is expected to end by Tuesday morning and to be mostly concentrated north of the city during the day, before moving south overnight, said Jon Hitchcock, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Buffalo.

The snow is forecast to be “very fluffy,” he added, and, with very little wind in the forecast, the Buffalo region should not expect the same level of blizzard-like conditions it experienced over the weekend.

The weather service said Monday that more than 49 inches of snow was recorded over three days at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the highest total in Erie County. Jefferson County received between 22 and 41 inches of snow, Niagara County recorded up to 24 inches of snow and Lewis County saw up to 30 inches of snow over the same time period, according to the weather service.

More than 12,000 customers remained without power in Erie County. Poloncarz said electricity “might not get restored until Tuesday.” Officials said the airfield at the Buffalo airport would remain closed until Wednesday morning.

Poloncarz and Hochul, who grew up in the Buffalo suburbs, said this week’s storm was the worst in their memory. Both, at times, evoked comparisons to the city’s blizzard of 1977, which left 28 people in the state dead.

“No one thought we’d see a blizzard worse than the one in ’77 here,” said Hochul, who was 18 at the time of that monumental storm. “And we did this week.”

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