Live Winter Storm Updates: Western New York is facing its worst storm in decades
Many people in Buffalo and across Western New York woke up Saturday morning unable to leave their homes.
Strong winds and the overnight storm piled snow mounds more than 6 feet high against the fronts of homes and businesses, wrapping front doors and porches and pinning vehicles parked on roads and driveways. Few ventured outside, and those who did encountered extremely cold temperatures that numbed faces, froze fingers, and left clothing and exposed limbs saturated and frozen.
“It was a very, very bad night in our community,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncartz said Saturday morning. “This could turn out to be the worst storm in our community’s history, surpassing the infamous Blizzard of ’77 in ferocity.”
Mr. Poloncarz said two people died in Cheektowaga because emergency workers were unable to reach them in time.
He said wind and snow were hampering emergency response efforts and suggested hundreds of residents could still be trapped in cars, including people who tried to leave the region late at night.
“Our No. 1 priority is coordinating efforts to reach these people,” he said.
In the worst-hit areas — including Buffalo, Cheektowaga, Lancaster and Williamsville — two-thirds of emergency services were blocked, Mr. Poloncarz said, and unable to reach people.
“It’s not something we’re proud of,” Mr Poloncarz said, urging people to stay put, even if they stayed at a restaurant where they had dinner on Friday night. “Attempts are being made, but there is no guarantee that in a life-threatening emergency they will be able to respond immediately.”
Mr Poloncarz said that in one case a doctor had to talk to a woman during her labor over the phone, giving instructions to her sister on how to deliver the baby.
Elsewhere in Erie County, the mother of a sick baby that emergency responders couldn’t reach took to Facebook for help, saying her 1-year-old was on a ventilator.
“No electricity or heat and I have a baby on a ventilator,” she wrote.
Tommy Belonte, 37, a federal employee, ventured outside his north Buffalo home for less than 10 minutes Saturday morning to let his lumbering German shepherd out and check on the condition of his neighbor’s driveway. But the “bone-chilling” cold set in instantly.
“Everybody says, ‘Oh, you’re from Buffalo, you’re used to it.’ But you can’t get used to it,” he said as he dug up the adjacent trail. “I won’t be out for long, that’s for sure.”
Like many people in Western New York, Mr. Bellonte’s holiday conditions were disrupted by the storm. Instead of heading to his family home in north suburban Lewiston, he plans to stay put Saturday, “just curl up” and watch the Buffalo Bills game on TV.
“I have friends who live a block from here,” he said. “Fortunately, we all still have power.”
In the meantime, Mr. Poloncarz urged residents not to call 911 for non-emergency situations so that the service can help those in most urgent need.
“You may be upset that your internet is down,” he said, “but that’s no reason to call 911.”
County officials have asked Gov. Kathy Hochul to send National Guard troops to help with rescue operations.
Conditions were not expected to improve throughout the day. The National Weather Service is predicting wind gusts of up to 65 mph and wind chills of 15 to 25 below zero. Mr. Poloncarz urged residents to stay indoors and not go out on Christmas Eve.
“If you’re not in the area of the storm, you have no idea how bad it is,” he said.
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