Brutal storm keeping frigid grip on much of Northeast as Buffalo struggles to cope
More snow is expected in parts of western New York already buried by what officials are calling a "once in a generation" winter storm. The deep freeze in the eastern U.S. will continue until more moderate temperatures arrive Wednesday, forecasters say, as residents in the Buffalo area deal with massive snow drifts that snarled emergency vehicles and trapped some residents in their homes or cars. Travelers across the country continue grappling with canceled flights and dangerous roads.
The death toll from the massive storm has risen to least 55 people across the United States — 27 of them in Erie County, New York, where Buffalo is located.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Monday afternoon that President Joe Biden had promised to "swiftly approve my request for a federal emergency disaster declaration" for hard-hit Western New York, which includes Buffalo. The president, too, said in a tweet that his administration stands "ready to make sure they have the resources they need to get through this."
"My heart is with those who lost loved ones this holiday weekend. You are in my and Jill's prayers," Mr. Biden said.
The extreme weather stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico and knocked out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.
"Lake effect snow will continue through Tuesday northeast of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario," the National Weather Service said Monday morning. "Additional accumulations of 6 to 12 inches are expected off Lake Erie in and near Buffalo, and 1 to 2 feet for Jefferson and northern Lewis counties."
That's especially unwelcome news for Buffalo, which saw hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions that paralyzed emergency response efforts and took at least 14 lives in the city, Mayor Byron Brown's office said Monday morning.
"Our focus has been on life safety, working in teams, plowing to get to motorists who are stranded in vehicles, plowing and opening up streets to get to people with emergency medical situations," Brown told CBS News in an interview Monday afternoon. "And then also working with our power company, National Grid, to get them to needed locations to restore power."
He said at one point more than 20,000 homes had lost power, but more than half of them now have it back.
"This is probably one of the harshest winter storms this city has seen in over 50 years," Brown said. "This is not a typical Buffalo snowfall — this is blizzard conditions, hurricane-force winds in some cases, extreme temperatures."
"This community needs resources," he continued, thanking President Biden for the emergency aid. "We've had three storms, two historic storms less than two months."
A state of emergency remained in place for all of Erie County on Monday. Huge snowdrifts covered cars and roads were treacherous if not impassible. Officials said the airport would be shut through Tuesday morning.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll includes three people who died when emergency crews couldn't reach them in time to treat their medical crises. Hochul, who called out the National Guard, said almost every fire truck in Buffalo was stranded Saturday.
Other deaths in the county include 14 people who perished outside in the freezing cold, four who died in homes with no heat and three who were found in vehicles, Poloncarz said.
"Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks," he said. "We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days."
Several people suffered fatal cardiac arrest while shoveling or snow-blowing, Poloncarz said, warning those with heart conditions to avoid shoveling.
Freezing conditions and power outages had Buffalo residents scrambling to get to anywhere with heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city. But with streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn't an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
"There's one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can't drive, obviously, because I'm stuck," Manahan said. "And you can't be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit."
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, following his footprints through drifts.
"If I stay in this car I'm going to die here with my kids," Ilunga recalled thinking. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. "It's something I will never forget in my life."
Travelers' weather woes continued, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after the bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow.
Another 3,600 U.S, flights were canceled as of Monday afternoon, according to FlightAware.com.
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were steadily being restored across the U.S. According to poweroutage.us, some 59,000 customers across the country were without power as of 6 a.m. ET Monday — down from a peak of 1.7 million. Most of those still experiencing blackouts were in Maine and New York state.
Concerns about rolling blackouts across eastern states subsided Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day's peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called for its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid the freeze Saturday.
Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country, including a 27-year-old man in Niagara County, New York, who was overcome by carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace; 10 dead in Ohio, including a utility worker who was electrocuted and several people killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado's subzero temperatures; and a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.
Cold weather extended deep into the South, and officials in Jackson, Mississippi, announced on Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures.
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