New York’s governor says the Buffalo storm is “very bad,” where 2.4-meter snow drifts against front doors and power outages in freezing temperatures pose life-threatening conditions.
An unrelenting winter storm brought danger and misery to millions of Americans on Christmas Day, as heavy snow and bitter cold lashed parts of the eastern United States, with weather-related deaths rising to at least 29.
A state of emergency emerged Sunday in Buffalo, western New York, where a blizzard engulfed the city, leaving emergency services unable to reach the hardest-hit areas.
The Buffalo storm was a “crisis of epic proportions” and “the worst of the worst,” said New York Gov. Cathy Hochul, a native of Buffalo, where eight feet (2.4-meters) of snow left front doors and power out. Freezing temperatures have created life-threatening conditions.
More than 200,000 people in several eastern states woke up without power on Christmas morning, and many updated their holiday travel plans, even as the five-day storm of blizzard conditions and strong winds showed no signs of easing.
Extreme weather sent chilly temperatures in all 48 contiguous US states below freezing over the weekend, leaving thousands of flights canceled and vacationers stranded as residents were trapped in snow and ice.
Twenty-six weather-related deaths have been confirmed in eight states, with some U.S. media reporting a total of 30 storm-related deaths, including four deaths from possible exposure in Colorado and at least seven in western New York.
As large parts of the country began to emerge from the massive storm and temperatures in some places returned to seasonal normals, Buffalo was in the grip of “a major disaster”, a senior official said on Sunday.
“Erie County has seven confirmed deaths at this point as a result of the storm. There could be more,” County Administrator Mark Bollencarz told reporters.
He described harrowing conditions where bodies were found under vehicles and ice for hours — and emergency workers went “car to car” searching for bodies or trapped motorists.
The city’s international airport remains closed till Tuesday.
Governor Hochul deployed 200 National Guardsmen to rescue operations in and around Buffalo.
“It’s serious, it’s dangerous and it’s deadly,” he told CNN, noting that even National Guard units were trapped and needed rescue.
Dozens died as a US blizzard knocked out power and halted travel
‘Conditions are very bad’
The National Weather Service warned that blizzard conditions caused by lake-effect snow in the Great Lakes region of western New York would continue Sunday, “with 2 to 3 feet of additional snow accumulation through tonight.”
A couple in Buffalo, across the Canadian border, told AFP on Saturday that they would not make the 10-minute drive to visit their family for Christmas because the roads were completely impassable.
“It’s tough because the conditions are so bad … a lot of fire departments don’t even send trucks to calls,” said 40-year-old Rebecca Bordolin.
A vast travel dream has come to full fruition for millions.
One of the most severe storms in decades forced the cancellation of more than 1,700 U.S. flights on Sunday, according to the tracking website Flightaware.com.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted Saturday, “The most serious disruptions are behind us as flight and airport operations gradually resume.”
But passengers were stranded or delayed at airports including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York.
Road ice and white-out conditions led to the temporary closure of some of the nation’s busiest thoroughfares, including the cross-country Interstate 70.
Drivers were warned not to hit the roads — even as the nation typically reaches its busiest time of year for travel.
Extreme weather has severely taxed power grids, with many power providers urging millions of people to reduce usage to reduce rolling blackouts in places like North Carolina and Tennessee.
At one point on Saturday, nearly 1.7 million customers were without power in the bitter cold, according to tracker poweroutage.us.
While 180,000 customers in eastern states were still without power, that number had dropped significantly by Sunday.
In Canada, hundreds of thousands of people were without power in Ontario and Quebec, several flights were canceled in major cities and train passenger service between Toronto and Ottawa was suspended.
read more: A massive winter storm hits the US and Canada