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Monster ice storm kills at least 34 in US

Monster ice storm kills at least 34 in US

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Millions of people huddled against the deep cold Sunday to weather the winter storm that killed at least 34 people in the United States and is expected to claim more lives after trapping some residents in homes with Accumulated snow drifted and knocked out power to 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 percent of the U.S. population faces some kind of winter weather warning or advisory, and temperatures fell sharply below normal from east of the Rockies to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.

Passenger weather woes are likely to continue, with hundreds of flights already canceled and more expected after a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a severe storm — develops near the Great Lakes, producing blizzards including strong winds and snow. About 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled as of 2 p.m. EDT Sunday, according to tracking site FlightAware.

The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts. New York Gov. Cathy Hochul said nearly every fire engine in the city was grounded Saturday and urged people Sunday to obey the current driving ban in the region. Authorities said the airport would be closed until Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service said the total snow at Buffalo Niagara International Airport was 43 inches (109 centimeters) as of 7 a.m. Sunday.

Daylight revealed cars nearly covered in 6-foot drifts of snow and thousands of homes, some decked out in unlit holiday storefronts, dark from lack of power. With snow swirling on intact and impassable streets, forecasters warned an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas by early Monday morning with winds gusting to 40 mph. Police said Sunday night that there were two “isolated” incidents of looting during the storm.

Two people died in their homes in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, on Friday when emergency crews couldn’t get to them in time to treat their medical conditions. County Executive Mark Poloncartz said 10 more people died in Erie County during the storm, including six in Buffalo, and warned there could be more.

“Some were found in cars, others were found on the street in snowdrifts,” Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”

Freezing conditions and day-long power outages left Buffalo residents scrambling to get anywhere warm amid what Hochul called the city’s longest blizzard. But with the streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.

“There is a warm shelter, but it would be too far for me to reach. Obviously I can’t drive because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”

Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Md., was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ont., for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by the wind and nearly buried in the snow.

By 4am on Saturday, almost out of fuel, the Ilunga made the desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back, while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, following his footprints through the bed.

“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” Ilunga recalled thinking. 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 were gradually being restored in the US. According to poweroutage.us, fewer than 200,000 customers were without power Sunday at 3 p.m. EDT — down from a peak of 1.7 million.

Concerns about continued power outages in the eastern states eased Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak power demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator urged its 65 million customers to conserve energy amid Saturday’s freeze.

In North Carolina, fewer than 6,500 customers were without power, down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, power has been restored to tens of thousands, with just under 83,000 people, mostly in Maine, still without power. In New York, about 34,000 households were still without power Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled strong winds and struggled to get stuck in the snow.

Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days across the country: 12 in Erie County, N.Y., ranging in age from 26 to 93, and another in Niagara County, where a 27-year-old man was overcome by carbon monoxide after as snow blocks his furnace; 10 in Ohio, including a utility worker electrocuted and killed in multiple car crashes; six drivers killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; Vermont woman hit by falling branch; an apparently homeless man found in freezing temperatures in Colorado; and a woman who fell through the ice on the Wisconsin River.

In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day that residents now they have to boil their drinking water due to water pipes bursting in the cold temperatures

In Buffalo, William Kless was awake at 3 a.m. on Sunday. He called his three children at their mother’s home to wish them a Merry Christmas, then set off on his snowmobile for a second day spent transporting people from stuck cars and cold homes to a church that acts as a warm shelter.

Through heavy, windblown snow, he brought about 15 people to the church in Buffalo on Saturday, he said, including a family of five transported one by one. He also brought a man in need of dialysis who had spent 17 hours stuck in his car back home where he could receive treatment.

“I just felt like I had to,” Kless said.

___

Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press reporter Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Stephanie Dazio in Los Angeles; Jonathan Mathis in Charleston, West Virginia; Ron Todd in Philadelphia; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Mark Levy in Harrisburg, PA; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont, contributed to this report.


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