Dec 26 (Reuters) – A powerful blizzard that paralyzed western New York over the Christmas weekend killed at least 25 people, Erie County officials said on Monday, as road and utility crews faced a long day of shoveling the snowy area around Buffalo. .
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarez told reporters at a Monday morning briefing that the number of storm-related deaths in the county jumped to 12 overnight, including cases of people found in snowbanks, in their cars or dying of heart attacks while plowing or blowing snow.
Additional deaths have been reported, Poloncarez said, but the county medical examiner was trying to determine if they were directly attributable to the weather.
“There are still probably more deaths that will be announced later today,” Polonkarz said.
The blizzard, believed to be the region’s worst in 45 years, built up late Friday and lashed Western New York over the Christmas weekend. It forced an arctic freeze and a winter storm front that stretched across most of the United States for days, stretching as far south as the Mexican border.
At least 55 people have died in weather-related incidents in the US since late last week, according to NBC News.
The Greater Buffalo area, on the shores of Lake Erie near the Canadian border, was one of the hardest hit places. Cars and buses were buried under towering snowdrifts and high gear was used for transports in hospitals where ambulances could not travel.
Up to a foot of snow is still expected through Tuesday in some areas south of Buffalo and north of Syracuse.
High winds and “lake effect” snow — the result of moisture picked up by frozen air moving over warmer lake waters — created a storm that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said would go down in history as “the blizzard of ’22.” The worst since the blizzard in 1977 killed almost 30 people.
Rescue efforts continue
Hundreds of National Guard soldiers assisted local first responders and state police on Monday as crews rescued people trapped in homes and cars, performed health checks and provided food and basic necessities.
Emergency workers struggled to navigate snowdrifts to do their jobs, and many snowplows, tow trucks, ambulances and other emergency vehicles sent over the weekend had to extricate themselves after getting stuck in the snow, county officials said.
County Executive Poloncarez said he expects the White House to issue a disaster declaration on Monday, which will help the region cover the daunting costs of storm rescue and recovery.
Thousands of people in Erie County had power restored as of Monday morning, Poloncarz said, while about 13,000 customers were still without power statewide, according to poweroutage.us.
A driving ban was still in effect in Buffalo on Monday, for safety purposes and to keep roads clear for emergency and utility workers trying to navigate a nearly impassable obstacle course of buried cars and snow banks.
“There are cars everywhere. Everywhere. When they’re pointing the wrong way on the roads, they’re basically plowed in and you have to dig them out and tow them away. It’s going to take time to clear them out,” Polonkartz said.
Reporting by Gabriella Burter, Kanishka Singh and Susan Howey; Edited by Chizu Nomiyama
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