A deadly blizzard pummeled Buffalo, New York, on Christmas Day, trapping people in their cars, causing power outages and raising the death toll from a severe winter storm system that swept the United States.
Twenty-eight people have died so far in weather-related incidents across the country, according to an NBC News tally. CNN reported a total of 26 deaths.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll from the storm had risen from three to seven overnight in the Buffalo region in far western New York, where snow on Sunday brought total accumulation to nearly four feet (1.2 meters).
Some of the four reported dead on Sunday morning were found in cars and some in snow banks, Poloncarz said, adding that the death count might still rise.
“This is not the Christmas any of us hoped for nor expected, but try to have as merry a Christmas as possible today,” Poloncarz said on Twitter on Sunday. “My deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters that she had been in touch with the White House and that the Biden administration would support the state’s request for a federal disaster declaration.
“This will go down in history as Buffalo’s most devastating storm. This one is for the ages and we’re still in the middle of it,” Hochul said.
A powerful winter storm that caused frigid temperatures from the Northern Great Plains to the US-Mexico border was moving east on Sunday, after knocking out power to millions late last week and causing flight cancellations during the busy holiday travel period.
More than 200,000 homes and businesses were without power on the US East Coast, in Texas and in Washington state on Sunday, a sharp drop from the 1.8 million that were powerless as of early Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. In Buffalo, 16% of residents had no electricity on Sunday, officials said.
More than 1,500 flights in the United States were canceled as of midday on Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware, as weather further snarled holiday travel.
Christmas morning temperatures were still well below average across the central and eastern US, and below freezing even as far south as the Gulf Coast, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Rich Otto said.
In South Florida, iguanas were falling from trees, paralyzed because of a sharp temperature drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit (7 degrees Celsius), according to resident reports and images posted to Twitter.
DEADLY CAR TRAVEL
In Erie County, about 500 motorists were stranded in their vehicles on Friday night into Saturday morning, with the National Guard called in to help with rescues, Poloncarz said.
A countywide driving ban remained in effect on Sunday.
The Buffalo airport had recorded 43 inches (109 cm) of snow as of 7 a.m ET (1200 GMT) on Sunday, Otto said.
“Another one to two feet in general before Monday morning in the Buffalo area is expected,” Otto said. “I guess you can say in some ways, the worst of it is over but there’s still some pretty significant snowfall that’s ongoing around the Buffalo region today.”
Officials in Kentucky confirmed there were at least three storm-related deaths in that state, while at least four people were dead and several injured in auto-related accidents in Ohio, where a 50-vehicle pileup shut down the Ohio Turnpike in both directions during a blizzard near Toledo on Friday.