Western New York buried by snow; at least 6 dead
(CNN) — Stories about acts of bravery and kindness were emerging after as much as 6 feet of snow covered Buffalo, New York, one of the hardest-hit areas in a week when snowstorms and record-low temperatures whacked much of the country.
Six deaths in the region were blamed on the storm, authorities said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and city officials Wednesday recounted stories of emergency personnel working double shifts with little sleep, of rescuers trudging through piles of snow to get people to hospitals, of fire houses turned into temporary shelters and police officers delivering special baby formula to a pair of infants.
“It is clear that we are one Buffalo,” Brown said. Buffalo’s nickname is “The City of Good Neighbors.”
Former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly told CNN he was stranded at home but felt the warmth of Buffalo residents.
“There’s a lot of good neighbors, you know this,” he said. “The Buffalo people rally around each other. You love your neighbor and that’s how it is here. Somebody needs help, there’s always somebody there to join in.”
The weather isn’t letting up. More snow is expected later Wednesday and into Thursday, which could set a record high in the history of lake-effect snow events.
Snow across the land
About 50% of the United States had snow on the ground Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport, about a 20-minute drive from downtown, was operating Wednesday afternoon but many people were having trouble navigating the snow-covered streets to get to the airport. Most airlines canceled some flights, according to airline representatives and airport spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer.
“This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of Erie County,” said Mark Poloncarz, Erie County executive. “I can’t remember and I don’t think anyone else can remember this much snow falling in this short a period.”
This is only the area’s first snowfall of the winter, but South Buffalo has seen almost as much snow in 24 hours as it experiences in an entire season. About 84 inches is normal, but about 6 feet — 72 inches — has fallen since Tuesday.
Brown predicted a “long way to go” before efforts to clear Buffalo’s roadways are finished after the snowstorm. Already, 5,000 tons of snow have been removed from city streets and highways.
A driving ban remains in effect in South Buffalo, with rescuers — mostly from the fire department — using 18 snowmobiles to respond to emergency calls and help stranded motorists, he said.
“It is going to be a slow go,” the mayor told reporters. “Historic amounts of snow have fallen. There is no place to put that snow.”
Emboldened by Wednesday’s sunshine, Brown said, many people headed out onto the streets only to find themselves stranded. On Wednesday, authorities had received 12 calls from people stuck in the snow.
Buffalo’s Mercy Hospital is short-staffed because many employees couldn’t travel.
“Many of our nurses couldn’t get in to work today,” nurse Shanel Orsi told The Buffalo News. She herself hitched a ride from a snowmobiler to get there.
Thankfully, there were relatively few power outages in and near Buffalo, where only about 450 customers didn’t have electricity Wednesday, New York State Electric and Gas Corp. reported. That’s less than 1% of its customers.
Another blast of cold air is hammering the Midwest and Northeast on Wednesday, while the Southeast could see record lows as temperatures drop into the teens and 20s.
At least six people have died as a result of the storm. Erie County officials said one of the storm-related deaths was from a car accident and three other people died due to cardiac issues that resulted from shoveling snow.
In Alden, New York, a 46-year-old man was found dead inside a car buried in 12 to 15 feet of snow, authorities said.
In Genesee County, Jack Boyce, a 56-year-old county employee, died after collapsing Tuesday morning while operating a snow blower outside the county sheriff’s office, according to county manager Jay Gsell.
Some places in the region have seen more than 5 feet of snow, while others could see 7½ feet more after another round of wintry weather hits this week.
That’s the equivalent of a year’s worth of snow that’s expected to pound some areas over a three-day period, Erie County’s Poloncarz said.
“It’s probably heavier than anything that we have seen in over 40 years, so it’s going to take some time to dig out,” Brown said.
Trapped at the fire station
The snow left people stranded in cars and turned roadways into parking lots. It also forced residents to seek shelter in unusual places.
About 70 people took refuge at a Buffalo fire station and 20 others holed up in a police station Tuesday night, authorities said. By morning, most had returned home.
And as they waited, those at the fire station got a teeny weeny gift.
A baby girl was delivered there when an ambulance was unable to take her mother to the hospital, Buffalo Fire Commissioner Garnell Whitfield said.
“She was born, she’s safe and she’s healthy,” Whitfield said.
Trapped for over a day
New York State troopers rescued the Niagara University women’s basketball team early Wednesday after it got stuck on a bus for more than 24 hours due to the snowstorm.
The bus sat on the side of a highway, unable to move. The team was returning home after a game in Pittsburgh when the bus got stuck.
While the team waited for responders, head coach Kendra Faustin spoke to CNN’s Don Lemon over Skype.
“The roads weren’t plowed. It got really bad really fast,” Faustin said. “I’m assuming that somebody in the front of the line got stuck and everybody else had to stop, and that’s how we got where we are.”
Buffalo’s not alone
All 50 states registered temperatures below freezing Tuesday morning, even traditionally warm ones. Temperatures at Mauna Kea on Hawaii’s Big Island dipped to 31 degrees while Florida’s Panhandle was in the upper 20s, with freeze warnings in effect.
The cause of this mayhem: Arctic air pouring over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes is producing extreme lake-effect snows.
Lancaster, New York, has already received over 40 inches of snow, and it continues to snow at a rate of 4 to 5 inches per hour.