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BUFFALO, NY (AP) – Millions of people hunkered down against a deep freeze on Sunday to ride out the winter storm that has killed at least 34 people across the United States and is expected to claim more lives after trapping some residents at the inside homes with piles of snow drifts and power outages in tens of thousands of homes and businesses.
The magnitude of the storm was nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures dropped significantly below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to Appalachia, the National Weather Service said. .
Travelers’ weather woes are set to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after a bomb cyclone – when air pressure drops very quickly during a strong storm – developed near the Great Lakes , causing blizzard conditions including high winds and snow. Some 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled around 2 p.m. EDT on Sunday, according to tracking site FlightAware.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, crippling emergency response efforts. New York Governor Kathy Hochul said nearly all of the city’s fire trucks were grounded on Saturday. Officials said the airport would be closed until Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service said the snow total at Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches (109 centimeters) as of 7 a.m. Sunday.
Daylight revealed cars nearly covered in 6ft snowdrifts and thousands of homes, some adorned with unlit holiday stalls, dark from lack of power. With snow swirling across untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned an additional 2ft of snowfall was possible in some areas through early Monday morning amid 40mph gusts of wind.
Two people died Friday at their suburban homes in Cheektawaga, New York, when emergency crews couldn’t reach them in time to treat their health issues, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to seven in Erie County. County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there could be more deaths.
“Some were found in cars, others on the street in snow banks,” Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
Freezing conditions and one-day power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get wherever there was heat amid what Hochul called the longest blizzard conditions on record in the city. But with streets under a thick white blanket, that wasn’t an option for the likes of Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.
“There is a heated shelter, but that would be too far for me. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t stay outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ont., for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV was booby-trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by the wind and almost buried in snow.
At 4 a.m. Saturday, with their fuel nearly exhausted, Ilunga made the desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach nearby shelter. He carried Destiny, 6, on his back while Cindy, 16, clutched their Pomeranian pup, following her footprints through drifts.
“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” Ilunga remembers thinking. He cried when the family walked through the doors of the shelter. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were being steadily restored across the United States. 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 power outages in eastern states eased on Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called on its 65 million consumers to save energy amid the freeze on Saturday.
In North Carolina, fewer than 6,500 customers had no power, down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, power has been restored for tens of thousands of people with just under 83 000 people, mainly in Maine, still without. In New York, about 34,000 homes were still without power on Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled high winds and struggled to get stuck in the snow.
Deaths related to the storm have been reported in recent days across the country: 12 in Erie County, New York, aged 26 to 93, and another in Niagara County where a 27-year-old man was overwhelmed by carbon monoxide. after the snow has blocked his furnace; 10 in Ohio, including an employee electrocuted and people killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; a seemingly homeless man found amid sub-freezing Colorado temperatures; and a woman who fell through the ice of the Wisconsin River.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water due to bursting water pipes in freezing temperatures. In Tampa, Fla., the thermometer dipped below freezing for the first time in nearly five years, according to the National Weather Service – a drop that is ripe for cold-blooded iguanas to fall from trees.
In Buffalo, William Kless got up at 3 a.m. on Sunday. He called his three children to their mother’s house to wish them a Merry Christmas, then set off on his snowmobile for a second day ferrying people from stuck cars and freezing houses to a church functioning as a heated shelter.
Through heavy, wind-driven snow, he brought about 15 people to the Buffalo church on Saturday, he said, including a family of five being carried one by one. He also had a man in need of dialysis, who had spent 17 hours stranded in his car at home where he could receive treatment.
“I just felt compelled to do it,” Kless said.
Massive winter storm kills at least 34 – NPR
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