BUFFALO, New York (WABC) — The Buffalo region has been slammed with 4 feet of snow and severe storm conditions leaving 16 people dead.
Some of those people were found in cars and some were even found in the street, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”
For the first time in the Buffalo Fire Department’s history, they could not respond to any calls because of the conditions.
In the wake of Buffalo’s deadly conditions, Nassau County is lending a hand. They will send storm response resources on Monday morning.
The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded. The Buffalo Airport is shut down until Tuesday, according to officials.
In a storm briefing on Sunday evening, Hochul said that the storm had surpassed the blizzard of 1977 in terms of ferocity and longevity.
She urged residents to stay off the roads and said the driving ban for the City of Buffalo is not expected to be lifted on Monday.
Of the 16 storm-related deaths that have been confirmed so far, 10 were reported in Buffalo City limits and six deaths were reported outside of the city, three in Amherst and three in Cheektowaga. Officials said they expect that death toll to rise by the end of the night.
The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches (109 centimeters) at 7 a.m. Sunday.
In addition, the NWS said that the 92.7 inches recorded so far this winter season is not only the most to start the season through Christmas, but also just 2.7 inches behind the typical enter seasonal snowfall.
Crews were out on Christmas Day, in an attempt to reach anyone who is still stranded.
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get out of their homes to anywhere that had heat. But with city streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
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“There’s one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running in the vehicle buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, with their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, stepping into his footprints as they trudged through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” he recalled thinking, but believing they had to try. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this story.
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