[Breaking news update, published at 10:49 a.m. ET]
The winter storm death toll has risen to 34 in Erie County, New York, as crews continue to clear roads and first responders check on people they were unable to reach days ago as the catastrophic weather system swept the nation, officials there said in Wednesday.
Twenty-six of the dead were found in Buffalo, while seven were located in the suburbs, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference, adding that he did not know where one person was found.
[Original story, published at 10:11 a.m. ET]
Emergency services have been restored in Buffalo, New York, officials said, as crews continue to clear roads and first responders check on people they couldn’t reach days ago in a deadly winter storm swept the nation.
At least 31 people have died in New York’s Erie County, where Buffalo was dumped with nearly 52 inches of snow, stranding residents at home — many without heat — as a Christmas weekend blizzard knocked down power lines. At least 25 others in 11 US states were also reported dead in the storm.
A driving ban remained in effect Wednesday in Buffalo amid a two-day effort to free up at least one lane on every street to accommodate emergency teamsAccording to the city and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncartz. However, they are still hampered by hundreds of vehicles abandoned in the snow, dangerous driving conditions and snow-covered lanes, with emergency and rescue vehicles still stuck, Poloncarz spokesman Peter Anderson said on Tuesday.
The county is bringing in 100 troopers, plus the New York State Police, to handle traffic control “because it’s become so obvious that too many people are ignoring the (driving) ban,” Poloncarz said. Officials are also working to coordinate fuel deliveries for emergency crews and food deliveries to markets, he said.
“That’s why you have to stay off the road in these affected areas because we have to be able to get those resources to where they need to be so that the shelves are really stocked and ready to go,” Poloncarz said.
Meanwhile, Buffalo is bracing for possible flooding as rising temperatures melt the vast amount of snow and 2 inches of rain is forecast over the weekend. The risk of flooding is low, the National Weather Service said.
For now, authorities are focusing on welfare checks and getting people to hospitals after hundreds of calls for help went unanswered as the storm pounded the area, Erie County Sheriff John Garcia said.
Amid the frigid conditions outside, “people … got stuck in their cars and died in their cars. We have people who have been walking in a blizzard and died in the street, died in snowdrifts,” said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. “And we’ve found people who died in their homes.”
At least one reported death in Erie County was due to a delay in emergency medical care, Poloncarz told CNN on Tuesday. “Our emergency crews couldn’t get to the person because of the snow,” he said. “They were stranded and by the time they got there it was too late.”
That storm marked the first time the Buffalo Fire Department was unable to respond to emergency calls due to severe conditions, Poloncarz said, citing an agency historian. Two-thirds of the equipment sent to help clear winter snow during the height of the storm was also stranded, he said.
The blizzard — which Gov. Kathy Hochul called a “once-in-a-generation storm” — drew many comparisons to the infamous Buffalo blizzard of 1977, a powerful storm that left 23 dead.
“The blizzard of ’77 is considered the worst storm in Buffalo history,” Poloncarz said Monday. “Well, unfortunately, it’s already surpassed it in deaths.”
Andelle Taylor, 22, was found dead in Buffalo over the holiday weekend after being trapped in her car by the blizzard, her family said.
After losing contact with her, the family posted her location on a personal Facebook page related to the storm to ask for help, and a man called to say he found her without a pulse, her sister said.
The grim aftermath of the winter storm is widespread, with at least 56 storm-related deaths reported in several states:
• new York: In addition to the 31 deaths in Erie County, one fatal carbon monoxide poisoning was reported in Niagara County.
• Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with one man found near a building’s power transformer possibly seeking warmth and another camped out in an alley.
• Kansas: Three people died in weather-related traffic accidents, the Highway Patrol said Friday.
• Kentucky: Three people have died, officials said, including one involved in a car crash in Montgomery County.
• Missouri: One person is dead after a van slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police said.
• New Hampshire: A hiker was found dead in Franconia on Christmas morning, said Lt. James Kneeland, spokesman for the New Hampshire Department of Fish and Game.
• Ohio: Nine people died in weather-related crashes, including four in a crash Saturday morning on Interstate 75 when a tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said.
• south Carolina: Two men — including a 91-year-old man who went out on Christmas Day to fix a broken water pipe — have died as a result of the storm in Anderson County, the medical examiner’s office there said. The other victim died on Christmas Eve after his home lost power.
• Tennessee: The Department of Health on Friday confirmed one storm-related death.
• Vermont: A Castleton woman has died after a tree fell on her home, according to the police chief.
• Wisconsin: The State Patrol on Thursday reported one fatal crash due to the wintry weather.
With flooding possible in Buffalo, crews are focused on clearing key snow banks, officials said. Still, “it should take about an inch of rain from this system before flooding becomes an issue,” the weather service said.
City leaders are working with the National Weather Service “not only to consider what happened last week, but what could potentially happen,” said Daniel Neavert of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Services.
All major highways in Western New York, including the New York State Highway, were reopened by Tuesday — “a sign that we’re finally turning the corner on this unique storm,” Hochul said.
Buffalo received another 1.6 inches of snow Tuesday, bringing Friday’s total to 51.9 inches and December’s total to 64.7 inches, the weather service said. In all, Buffalo has received 101.6 inches this winter season, CNN meteorologist Robert Shackelford said.
Conditions are improving and lake-effect snowfall has finally stopped, he noted. Warm temperatures are forecast for at least the next week, with Buffalo expected to reach highs in the upper 30s on Wednesday and the 40s over the weekend.
Officers have also responded to several reports of robberies. Eight people had been arrested in Buffalo as of Tuesday night in connection with suspected robberies during the winter storm, according to a tweet from the Buffalo Police Department.
“It’s terrible that even though residents of our community died in this storm, people are looting,” the mayor said, but noted, “These are a minority of people.”
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