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Winter storm death toll rises to 25 in Erie County, New York as residents remain trapped under snow

Winter storm death toll rises to 25 in Erie County, New York as residents remain trapped under snow

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[Breaking news update at 9:47 a.m. ET]

At least 25 people have died in Erie County, New York, as a result of a massive winter storm that blasted much of the U.S., County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference Monday, citing the county medical examiner’s findings.

[Previous story, published at 9:14 a.m. ET]

Like a massive winter storm continues to blast much of the US with brutal winter weather – leading to at least 37 deaths across the country – parts of western New York were buried by up to 43 inches of snow, leaving vehicles stranded and thousands without power during Christmas weekend.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul told CNN the storm was “the most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long history.” Heavy snowfall and a blizzard left roads impassable with zero visibility, froze electrical substations and stranded at least 17 people across the state dead since sunday night.

Western New York is drowning in thick lake-effect snow—which forms when cold air moves over warm waters on the Great Lakes – just one month later the region was hit with a historic snowstorm.

As rescue teams and hundreds of plow drivers spread out on Christmas Day, even emergency and rescue vehicles sent to help got stuck in the snow. Eleven abandoned ambulances were dug up on Sunday, officials said.

“We had to send out specialized rescue teams to bring in the rescuers,” Mark Poloncartz, executive director of Erie County, which includes Buffalo, told “CNN This Morning” on Monday, adding that this was the worst storm that could hit. remember. “It was just awful and it was awful for 24 hours straight.”

“We’re used to snow here, we can handle the snow,” he said. “But with the wind, the blinding views – it was pitch white – and the extreme cold, it was some of the worst conditions any of us had ever seen.”

Many of New York’s weather-related deaths were in Erie County, where some people were found dead in cars and on the street in snowdrifts, Poloncarz said Sunday. The deaths reported in Buffalo “were people found outside and in cars,” Buffalo police said in a statement.

Hundreds of National Guard soldiers have been sent to help with rescue operations in New York. State police had been involved in more than 500 rescues through Sunday, including delivering a baby and helping a man with 4 percent of his mechanical heart left, the governor said.

“We are still in the throes of this very dangerous life-threatening situation,” said Hochul, is urging residents to stay off the roads as a driving ban remains in effect in Erie County through Monday.

“Our state and county plows were out there, nonstop, wasting time and putting themselves in danger driving through blinding snowstorms to clear the roads,” Hochul said.

As strong blizzards swept the region, about 500 drivers were stranded in their vehicles from Friday night into Saturday morning, according to Poloncarz, who described frightening road conditions.

“Think about staring at a blank sheet of paper just a few feet in front of you for more than 24 hours straight. So it was out in the worst conditions,” he said. “It was a continuous blizzard and white fog, so no one could see where they were going. Nobody had a clue what was going on.”

While abandoned vehicles litter the snow-covered roads — with hundreds of cars still on Buffalo’s streets — conditions are tough inside homes, too.

Some residents have been stuck in their homes for the past 56 hours, some without power in the freezing cold, Hochul said during the news conference. This is not due to a lack of resources, the governor said, but rather to the mobility and access challenge facing utilities.

Blankets of snow cover a neighborhood, December 25, 2022, in Buffalo, New York.

As of Sunday evening, 94.5 percent of Erie County residents and 87 percent of Buffalo residents had power restored, Hochul said.

Still, there were 12,000 homes and businesses in Erie County without power Sunday night, and many won’t have lights or heat until Tuesday, Poloncarz said.

Buffalo will continue to experience snow and cold temperatures Monday, with an expected high of 23 degrees during the day and a low of 21 degrees at night, according to the National Weather Service.

Over the past week, a lingering winter storm has lashed much of the US with dangerously cold temperatures and frigid winds, while also bringing with it widespread power outages and thousands of flight cancellations.

More than 10 million people remained under freeze warnings into the south Monday, including residents of Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee, Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham.

Sub-freezing temperatures are expected in affected areas, where temperatures will be in the teens and low 20s, potentially killing crops and damaging plumbing. Most of those warnings expire Monday morning as temperatures finally begin to recover from polar air.

Nationwide, about 65,000 customers were without power early Monday, according to Power outage.USA. Since the start of the storm, the number of outages has exceeded a million customers at times.

Electricity wasn’t the only utility affected: Jackson, Mississippi, issued a boil water notice Sunday after its water system lost pressure due to a line break “likely caused by weather.” Facebook officials said. The city – which only two months ago overcame a separate prolonged water crisis – distributed water to residents throughout Christmas Day.

The storm also hampered travel in the US during the busy holiday weekend with more than 5000 fields canceled on Friday, more than 3,400 flights canceled on Saturday and more than 3,100 canceled for Christmas. More than 1500 flights within, in or outside the US were already canceled before 8:30 a.m. ET Monday, according to the tracking site FlightAware.

Multiple storm-related deaths have been reported in several states since the arrival of the brutal weather. In addition to the deaths in New York, the deaths included:

Colorado: Police in Colorado Springs, Colo., have reported two cold-related deaths since Thursday, with one man found near a building’s power transformer possibly seeking warmth and another camped out in an alley.

Kansas: Three people have died in weather-related crashes, the Kansas Highway Patrol said Friday.

Kentucky: Three people have died in the state, officials said, including one involving a car crash in Montgomery County.

Missouri: One person is dead after a caravan slid off an icy road and into a frozen creek, Kansas City police said.

Ohio: Nine people have died as a result of weather-related car crashes, including four in a Saturday morning crash on Interstate 75 when a semi-trailer with a tractor-trailer crossed the median and collided with an SUV and a pickup truck, authorities said.

Tennessee: The Tennessee Department of Health on Friday confirmed one storm-related death.

Wisconsin: The Wisconsin State Patrol on Thursday reported one fatal crash due to winter weather.

High winds and snow cover streets and vehicles in Buffalo on Sunday, December 25, 2022.

The powerful system continues to move away from the northeast, but many cities remain covered in thick snow. In a 24-hour period, Baraga, Michigan received 42.8 inches of snow, while Watertown, New York received 34.2 inches.

Grand Rapids, Michigan, had its snowiest Christmas Eve on record, receiving a record 10.5 inches, according to National Weather Service.

Winter storm warnings remain in effect in New York for Buffalo, Jamestown and Watertown and will expire over the next few days. Forecasts say Jamestown could see another 8 inches of snow, Buffalo could see another 14 inches, and Watertown could see another 3 feet. Winds can also gust up to 40 miles per hour.

Lake effect snow warnings remain in place north of Jamestown until 10 AM EST Tuesday, area where up to 18 inches are possible.

The lingering lake-effect snow blowing down from the Great Lakes will slowly become less intense, but the arctic air enveloping much of the eastern half of the nation will be slow to moderate, according to National Weather Service.

Lake effect snow will continue to create hazardous travel conditions over the next few days and conditions are expected to slowly improve through the week.

The low pressure system is forecast to move further into Canada as another system speeds across the northern US on Monday, bringing snow from the Northern Plains across the Midwest.

Much of the rest of the eastern part of the country will still be in a deep freeze until Monday before a mild trend begins on Tuesday, forecasters said.

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