For a city that averages 95 inches of snow a year, and is always the source for spectacular lake-effect blizzard pictures, how on EARTH did it comes to pass that they lost – at last count – 37 people to this storm?
The winter storm death toll has risen to 37 in Erie County, New York, as crews continue to clear roads and first responders check on people they couldn’t reach days ago when the catastrophic weather system swept the nation, officials there said Wednesday.
Granted, it was a hum-dinger of epic proportions, but it sure seemed like some puzzle pieces, that should have been put in place well before it hit, were flat-out missed. I mean, for crying out loud, we all knew what was coming – they’d talked about it for days. Even here in NW Florida, we’d wrapped pipes and plants because we knew temperatures on the trailing edge of this were going to be in the teens. And so they were.
Was everyone asleep at the wheel in the one place you could count on getting clobbered the hardest?
How about that new governor of theirs, for starters? You sure her last name isn’t Blanco because her response was about as incompetent.
Gov. Kathy Hochul’s fatal slow-to-act error in Buffalo winter storm
…With at least 37 people dead in Christmas weekend’s Buffalo snowstorm, New Yorkers are grimly learning of a big difference between former Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Gov. Hochul: a failure to issue a firm travel ban before the storm hit cost lives.
…Yet inexplicably, in this storm, despite days of forecasters’ warnings, Hochul failed to issue a broad regional travel ban ahead of the blizzard.
On the 22nd, the day before the snowfall, she announced a ban on only commercial vehicles on the Thruway, and other limited closures.
Her main holiday-travel message was just a suggestion, with the state “urging” people to either leave that night, or wait until Sunday.
Most roads didn’t close until after the storm.
You have got to be kidding me.
When the state’s chief executive is ill-prepared to handle things, it’s left to county and city officials to – hopefully – pick up the slack, especially since this wasn’t their first rodeo. To their eternal shame, the county was also well behind the curve in closing the roads. They did so Friday morning, leaving only 41 minutes for folks to get home before the ban took effect.
You would think most Buffalo residents would have made some sort of preparations, knowing for days what was coming…
I’m a recovering NYer. I normally go home for Christmas. Over a week out they said it would be bad. I chose not to fly since I knew would get stuck at an airport. Even without government warning we all have access to the weather! Be an adult. Common sense. Sad.
— Wil Wielgosz (@wilwielgosz) December 29, 2022
…but some were either optimistic about their chances of squeezing errands in – trying to cash Christmas checks or get last-minute presents in a paycheck-to-paycheck world – or still forced to go to work because the county hadn’t pulled the trigger on the ban the night before. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said officials had considered a ban Thursday night but took their chances on the preciseness of the timing predicted for the storm’s arrival, going with Friday morning instead.
…Locals on Twitter also ripped into Poloncarz’s handling of the once-in-a-lifetime storm.
“Yes, it would have changed a lot,” one angry local, Julie Momot, tweeted Wednesday in response to Poloncarz’s lukewarm mea culpa.
“My fiance was demanded to work at 7 am,” Momot wrote. “Only to get there and sent home at 930am in treacherous conditions. Unacceptable employer made him come in. Equally, not having the ban in place by 6 am.”
The county chose unwisely. Things were already going to hell in a handbasket when they finally pulled the trigger.
As well, people in the area also have become “desensitized” to the crappy weather. Complacency is bad. Cold kills.
…The devastating impact is, in large part, due to a collision of a historic blizzard, bad timing, a dearth of emergency management resources, and the immense difficulty of trying to force residents who are largely desensitized to severe weather to abandon much-needed jobs, as well as their holiday plans, according to interviews with lawmakers, community organizers and disaster experts.
…The blizzard struck right before Christmas, when many already short-staffed government agencies were further trimmed down for the holiday. It also hit on a Friday — a critical payday for many people who live paycheck to paycheck (27 percent of the city population lives in poverty) — a day on which many may have planned to buy gifts, food, or supplies before an especially cold Christmas.
…Although county officials had been imploring people to stay home and for businesses to close, those were merely advisories. On Thursday, some residents were begging the top emergency official to enact a ban, with more than a dozen people across Facebook and Twitter posting and responding to County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz’s updates that they would still be forced to work given the mad rush of the holiday weekend.
Earlier that morning, “life-threatening conditions” and “dangerously strong winds” were encroaching on Buffalo, according to forecasts. In his news conference that morning, Poloncarz drove home how dangerous the blizzard was going to be. Only twice in his tenure had the National Weather Service listed a weather event as having “extreme impact,” he said. Six minutes after the ban went into effect, Poloncarz shared on Facebook that the U.S. National Weather Service Buffalo N.Y. recorded 72 and 79-mph winds in the area. Nearly 13,000 people had already lost power.
By Friday afternoon, Williams was one of a host of emergency responders who found themselves stranded alongside some of the terrified drivers they were trying to save. Ambulances could not get to some neighborhoods for more than 24 hours. Due to blinding snow and powerful gusts, plows were pulled off the roads, further isolating neighborhoods.
Not to leave the city of Buffalo out of the blame game. No one there covered themselves in glory. Excuses and fingers are already flying, but what a cluster.
…And unlike past severe weather events that usually hit the small towns south of Buffalo, this storm bore down on the city, putting many more people in harm’s way and paralyzing infrastructure.
…Carter said there are only two working, open warming shelters in the city right now. After rescuing nearly 20 people from frigid conditions, he questioned why city officials did not open more schools, churches and government buildings, and stock them with food, cots and blankets for residents who already struggle to keep their homes warm.
…The city defended how it handled shelters for its 270,000 residents.
DeGeorge, the city spokesperson, said it had “enough warming shelters that were advertised prior to the snowstorm and blizzard conditions.” In total, there were four shelters, including the two warming centers, but two quickly lost power. Crews quickly opened another site in South Buffalo. DeGeorge said that additional community centers and some schools were opened.
When asked why more weren’t opened ahead of time, he said that the weather had been in the 40s on Thursday. And when Friday morning’s travel ban went into effect, “that obviously affected our ability to get more shelters open.” Police and fire houses became spontaneous warm spaces, opening their doors to hundreds of people who were caught outside Friday and Saturday, he said.
The county exec is also going after the mayor about snow removal.
The entire debacle is pathetic and inexcusable. Their carping at each other is even more disgusting in the face of the tragic stories we’ve read and those yet to be uncovered as more cars, sidewalks, and their occupants are found in melting snowbanks.
For me, this is reminiscent of dang near every major hurricane I’ve ever seen that’s hit a major metropolitan area. Unprepared, incompetent, and clueless are a dime a sad dozen.
The difference being the cold – it kills indiscriminately, young or old. It sticks around, unlike the water and wind of a big blow. If you are in a position of authority with responsibility for people’s lives in such a place – where these events occur on a regular basis – you have to act.
They knew this was coming. Every last one of these county and city officials and “emergency managers” should face citizens for answers.