NEW YORK – At least seven people were dead after a winter storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts.
A travel ban remained in effect on Sunday in the Western part of New York. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches at 7 a.m. Sunday.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in Buffalo was stranded and the airport would be shut down through Monday.
“We’re in a war. We’re at war with Mother Nature,” the governor said at a Sunday morning news briefing. “And she’s been hitting us with everything she has.”
Hochul said the storm would go down as the worst in Buffalo’s history. She feared the death toll would rise.
Hochul said that there were people that still need to be rescued.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the Erie County total to seven. County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there may be more deaths.
“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
A person walks on the street as a winter storm rolls through Western New York Saturday, Dec. 24, 2022, in Amherst N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get out of their homes to anywhere that had heat. But with city 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 in the vehicle buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, with 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, stepping into his footprints as they trudged through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” he recalled thinking, but believing they had to try. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.
With the Associated Press.