Death toll from cold, storms rises to 27 in Western New York

Buffalo, NY – Death toll from pre-Christmas snowstorm paralyzed the buffalo area New York state authorities said on Monday that the number had risen to 27 across most of the region as the region emerged from one of the worst weather-related disasters in its history.

The dead were found in their cars, homes and in snowdrifts. Some people died while shoveling snow. Rescue and recovery efforts continued Monday as the storm that ravaged much of the country is now blamed for at least 48 deaths across the country.

Snowstorms swept through western New York on Friday and Saturday, stranded motorists, cut power and prevented emergency crews from reaching frigid homes and residents trapped in cars.

Huge snowdrifts nearly submerged cars on Monday, and thousands of homes, some decorated with unlit holiday displays, went dark due to a power outage.

The massive storm is expected to claim more lives as it traps some residents in their homes and knocks out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses.

The extreme weather stretches from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande on the border with Mexico. About 60 percent of the U.S. population is facing some kind of winter weather advisory or warning, with temperatures dropping sharply below normal from east of the Rockies to the Appalachians.

The National Weather Service said Sunday that the cold arctic air “covering much of the eastern half of the United States” will be slow-moving.

Buffalo saw hurricane-force winds and snow causing bleaching conditions that paralyzed emergency response efforts.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said nearly every fire truck in the city was stuck Saturday, and she implored Sunday for people to respect the ongoing driving ban in the area. Snow totals at Buffalo Niagara International Airport were 43 inches at 7 a.m. Sunday, the National Weather Service said. The airport will remain closed until Tuesday morning, officials said.

As snow spiraled over unspoiled and impassable streets, forecasters warned some areas could still see 1 to 2 feet of snow by early Monday morning amid gusts of 40 mph. Police said late Sunday that there had been two “isolated” robberies during the storm.

Two people died Friday at their home in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, when first responders were unable to get to them in time to treat their conditions. Erie County Executive Mark Polonkaz said 10 others died there during the storm, including six in Buffalo, and warned that many more could die.

“Some were found in cars, and some were found in snowdrifts on the street,” Poloncarz said. “We know of people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”

The freezing temperatures and power outages have Buffaloians scrambling to get anywhere the heat comes amid what Hochul said was the longest snowstorm the city has ever seen.

Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was traveling with his daughters Friday to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with their engines running, battered by wind and nearly buried in snow.

By 4 a.m. Saturday, with their fuel nearly out, Ilunga made the desperate choice to brave the howling storm to a nearby shelter. He carried Destiny, 6, on his back, while Cindy, 16, hugged their Pomeranian puppy as they drifted through his footprints.

“If I had stayed in this car, I would have died here with my children,” Ilunga recalled. He cried as the family walked through the doors of the shelter. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my life.”

Weather problems for travelers continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more cancellations expected after a bomb cyclone near the Great Lakes, when atmospheric pressure dropped rapidly in a powerful storm, sparking snowstorms, including high winds and heavy snow.

The storm knocked out power to communities from Maine to Seattle. Fewer than 100,000 customers were without power as of 7 a.m. ET Monday morning — down from a peak of 1.7 million, according to poweroutage.us.

The mid-Atlantic grid operator called on its 65 million customers to save energy amid the bitter cold Saturday.

Storm-related deaths were reported across the country, from six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky to a woman who fell through the ice of a Wisconsin river.

In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas that residents must now boil their drinking water after water lines burst in freezing temperatures

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press correspondents Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles; Jonathan Mattise in Charleston, West Virginia; Ron Todd in Philadelphia; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Marc Levy in Harrisburg, Vermont; Jeff Martin in Atlanta; and Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont contributed to this report.