New York state and military police were sent to keep people from driving on Buffalo’s roads on Tuesday following a significant snowstorm that left dozens dead.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned that police would be stationed at entrances to Buffalo and at major intersections to enforce a ban on driving within New York’s second-most populous city.
“Too many people are ignoring the ban,” Poloncarz, a Democrat, during at a news conference on Tuesday in announcing the move. To enforce the ban, about 100 military police as well as state troopers will be stationed in Buffalo, Poloncarz said.
“DO NOT try to drive in or into the City of Buffalo. The driving ban remains,” the county executive also wrote on Twitter. “We are in an ongoing State of Emergency and a driving ban remains for the City of Buffalo. You can absolutely go out and walk to check on neighbors, go to open stores, etc. But do not drive,” he also wrote.
Officials said more than 30 people had died in the region, including seven storm-related deaths that Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown’s office announced Tuesday. The toll surpasses that of the historic Blizzard of 1977, blamed for killing as many as 29 people in a region known for harsh winter weather.
On Monday, the New York State Police wrote that troopers are assisting with search and rescue but said that a “driving ban” remains in effect. “Stay off the roads, unnecessary vehicles traveling hinder crews from rescue and rescue,” it said.
The National Weather Service predicted that as much as 2 inches more snow could fall Tuesday in Erie County, which includes Buffalo and its 275,000 residents. County Emergency Services Commissioner Dan Neaverth Jr. said officials also were somewhat concerned about the potential for flooding later in the week, when the weather is projected to warm and start melting the snow.
In Buffalo, the dead were found in cars, homes, and snowbanks. Some died while shoveling snow, and others when emergency crews could not respond in time to medical crises. Poloncarz called the blizzard “the worst storm probably in our lifetime,” even for an area known for heavy snow.
Meanwhile, there were also reports of looting at stores across the city, officials said. One video posted online Monday appeared to show shop owners firing gunshots at would-be looters.
Mayor Byron Brown told reporters Monday those videos suggest looters aren’t taking essential items.
“People who are out looting when people are losing their lives in this harsh winter storm is just absolutely reprehensible,” Brown told reporters. “I don’t know how these people can even live with themselves, how they can look at themselves in the mirror. They are the lowest of the low.”
President Joe Biden approved a state of emergency in New York over the storm, which will allow the FEMA Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to get involve and coordinate disaster relief efforts. It came after Gov. Kathy Hochul declared an emergency last week ahead of the severe weather event.
In granting the state’s request, Biden ordered federal assistance “to supplement state and local response efforts due to the emergency conditions resulting from a severe winter storm beginning on December 23, 2022, and continuing,” according to a statement issued by the White House on Monday.
More than 2,900 domestic and international U.S. flights were canceled Tuesday as of about noon Eastern time, according to the tracking site FlightAware. The U.S. Department of Transportation said it will look into flight cancellations by Southwest Airlines that left travelers stranded at airports across the country amid the winter storm. Many airlines were forced to cancel flights, but Southwest was by far the leader.
Southwest spokesman Jay McVay said at a press conference in Houston that cancellations snowballed as storm systems moved across the country, leaving flight crews and planes out of place.
“So we’ve been chasing our tails, trying to catch up and get back to normal safely, which is our number one priority as quickly as we could,” he said, according to The Associated Press. “And that’s exactly how we ended up where we are today.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.