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The death toll rises as the blizzard-ravaged Buffalo area is excavated

The death toll rises as the blizzard-ravaged Buffalo area is excavated

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Roads reopened Thursday at storm-besieged Buffalo as authorities continued to search for people who may have died or were stranded and suffering after last week’s snowstorm.

The driving ban in New York’s second-most populous city was lifted shortly after midnight Thursday, Mayor Byron Brown said.

At least 40 deaths reported in western New York, most of them in Buffalo, from raging blizzard in much of the country, with Buffalo in the sights on Friday and Saturday.

“Significant progress has been made” in snow removal, Brown said at a press conference late Wednesday. Suburban roads, major highways and Buffalo Niagara International Airport have now reopened.

Still, Brown urged residents not to drive if they don’t have to.

The National Guard went door to door to check on people who had lost power, and authorities faced the possibility of finding more victims as the snow melted amid increasingly mild weather. Buffalo police and officers from other law enforcement agencies also searched for victims, sometimes using the officers’ personal snowmobiles, trucks and other equipment.

Some victims have not yet been identified, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a storm briefing Thursday.

“There are families in this community who still haven’t been able to identify where a loved one is, they’re missing,” he said.

With the death toll already surpassing that of the area’s infamous blizzard of 1977 and rising daily, local authorities faced with questions about the answer until last week’s storm. They insisted on being prepared, but the weather was exceptional, even for a region prone to severe winter storms.

“The city did the best it could in the face of a historic blizzard,” the mayor said Wednesday.

Meanwhile, officials were watching a forecast that called for some rain later in the week as the snow melted in temperatures approaching or exceeding 50 degrees (10 degrees Celsius).

The National Weather Service predicted any flooding would be minor, but state and local officials said they were preparing nonetheless. Gov. Kathy Hochul said the state is ready to deploy nearly 800,000 sandbags and more than 300 pumps and generators for flood response efforts if needed.

During his briefing, Poloncarz apologized for publicly criticizing the city of Buffalo’s snow removal efforts as too slow, even “inconvenient,” a day earlier.

“We’ve been dealing with a lot of things, including the unfolding issues surrounding the death, the identification of the bodies, people who have yet to be identified, and new deaths that are coming in and it’s absolutely heartbreaking,” Poloncarz said, adding that he was trying to contact Brown to make amends. “I basically lost my focus.”

Brown dismissed Poloncarz’s complaints, saying Wednesday that the city has been “working diligently, working around the clock” to clear the snow and has sought to work cooperatively with others in government and the community.

Brown, Poloncarz and Hochul are Democrats.

A company that estimates damage from natural disasters said insured losses from the winter storm would be $5.4 billion across 42 states. Karen Clark & ​​Co. said New York, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina suffered the most storm damage, with subzero temperatures that could lead to infrastructure disruptions and burst pipes accounting for most of the losses.


Peltz reported from New York.

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