BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Millions of people braved deep freezes Sunday to escape a winter storm that killed at least 34 people across the United States and is expected to cost more lives after some residents were trapped in homes by snowdrifts. Power surges and knocks out tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The storm’s reach is nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border. About 60% of the US population faced some form of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians fell sharply below normal, the National Weather Service said.
Passenger weather problems are likely to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after the bomb storm – When atmospheric pressure drops quickly in a strong storm – develops near the Great Lakes, triggering blizzard conditions including heavy winds and snow. About 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled as of 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
storm With hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, it unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, paralyzing emergency response efforts. New York Governor Cathy Hochul said every fire truck in the city was stranded Saturday and urged people Sunday to respect a driving ban in the area. Officials said the airport will remain closed until Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service reported 43 inches (109 centimeters) of snow at Buffalo Niagara International Airport as of 7 a.m. Sunday.
Daylight revealed nearly 6-foot snowdrifts and cars covered by thousands of homes, some decked out in holiday displays darkened by lack of power. As the snow swirled around untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned that an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas early Monday morning amid 40 mph winds. Police said Sunday evening that there were two “separate” instances of looting during the storm.
Two people died Friday in their homes in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, when emergency personnel could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions. County Executive Mark Poloncarz said 10 more people died during the storm in Erie County, including six in Buffalo, and warned that many more could die.
“Some were found in cars, some were found in snowbanks on the street,” Poloncarz said. “We know there are people stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
Freezing conditions and day-long power outages left Buffalonians scrambling to get anywhere with heat in what Hochul City called the longest blizzard conditions ever. But on the streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in a parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.
“There’s a warm shelter, but it’s too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, because I’m trapped,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”
Ditzak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, he spent hours running the engine, buffeted by the wind and almost buried in the snow.
By 4am on Saturday, almost out of fuel, Ilunga made the desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach the nearest shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back, while 16-year-old Cindy held their Pomeranian puppy, following his footsteps through the drifts.
“If I stay in this car I will die here with my children,” thought Ilunga. He cried as the family walked through the shelter’s doors. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my life.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights are steadily being restored across the U.S. According to poweroutage.us, fewer than 200,000 customers were without power as of 3 p.m. EDT Sunday — down from a peak of 1.7 million.
Concerns about blackouts across eastern states eased Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak power demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator called on its 65 million customers to conserve energy amid the freeze Saturday.
In North Carolina, fewer than 6,500 customers were without power — down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, tens of thousands have been restored with just under 83,000 people, mostly in Maine, still without it. In New York, nearly 34,000 households remained without power Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled high winds and stuck in snow.
Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country in recent days: 12 in New York’s Erie County, ages 26 to 93, and another in Niagara County, a 27-year-old man who passed out from carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace; 10 in Ohio, including an electrocuted utility worker and multiple car accident fatalities; Six motorists died in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; Vermont woman struck by falling branch; A homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; And the woman who fell through the ice on the Wisconsin River.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water. Because water lines burst in cold temperatures
In Buffalo, William Kless woke up at 3 a.m. Sunday morning. He called his mother’s house to wish her a Merry Christmas and then drove his snowmobile the next day to a church that served as a shelter to warm people from stuck cars and cold homes.
Through heavy, wind-driven snow, they brought about 15 people to a church in Buffalo on Saturday, as a family of five was transported one by one, he said. They even got a man who needed dialysis, who was trapped in his car for 17 hours, back home, where he could receive treatment.
“I thought I had to,” Kless said.
Bleiberg reports from Dallas. Associated Press journalist Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Stephanie Dazio in Los Angeles; Jonathan Mattis in Charleston, West Virginia; Ron Todd in Philadelphia; John Roby in Charleston, West Virginia; Mark Levy in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont, contributed to this report.