Death toll in Buffalo blizzard rises due to emergency response delays | will it snow in florida


The death toll from Buffalo’s historic blizzard has risen to 47 after Erie County officials announced that a delayed emergency response may have contributed to the deaths of an additional three people.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday on Twitter that three residents died after cardiac events that were witnessed by friends or family, but emergency responders could not get to them because of the severe weather. One person died on Christmas Eve in Cheektowaga, another died on Christmas in Amherst, which is about 10 minutes away, and the third died in Buffalo on Dec. 27.

In total, seven people died due to what officials have characterized as a delayed EMS response. The majority of the dead in Erie County were found outside or in their cars, and 26 of the 46 were people of color. Another person died in Niagara County.

The medical examiner is still waiting to confirm the manner of death in three other cases, Poloncarz said, so the death toll could still rise.

Buffalo, which saw the worst damage and most people dead, has been the scene of ongoing protests as residents continue to demand accountability for their mayor and other officials’ inadequate preparation, response, and poor leadership. The chaos that ensued during and after the historic storm sparked backlash over the city’s emergency preparedness processes, budget, and its lack of participation in the county’s planning.

The city, the second largest in the state, has not had an official emergency manager for years.

Part of an emergency manager’s job is to create procedures for responding to natural disasters and other emergencies. They usually lead the response during and after emergencies, corralling and organizing all public safety officials, first responders, authorities, and other government agencies who are involved in the incident.

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This is a critical leadership position, especially for a city with two major sports teams, a university, and that consistently gets hit with severe, life-threatening weather events. The city also does not have an emergency response or preparation section on its website, which would make it difficult for residents to find helpful information.

Before, during, and after a major disaster, the emergency manager and other top officials usually convene at the emergency operations center along with those involved with various entities — such as utilities, the fire department and other public safety agencies — to communicate information in real time.

A former county employee who spoke to The Washington Post on a condition of anonymity said that the city’s lack of involvement and communication was not new, confirming that Buffalo consistently has not been involved in county emergency response efforts for other past storms.

“To convene in that way is life saving because information is being shared immediately,” the former county employee said. “The city was not present there, nor does the city not have its own version. That would have helped response and decisions early.”

Without an official emergency manager, the city’s fire commissioner, William Renaldo, has been handling those duties. However, Renaldo went on a preplanned vacation during the blizzard, a choice that has frustrated some in the department.

“The commissioner of the Buffalo Fire Department is currently the emergency management coordinator. The emergency management coordinator for the City of Buffalo chose to attend a prior scheduled, per-approved vacation to Florida while an impending storm, since labeled historic, descended on the City of Buffalo,” Vinny Ventresca, the president of Buffalo Professional Firefighters Local 282, told Buffalo Common Council members in a meeting on Wednesday.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Renaldo have defended the city’s handling of the storm, saying they were adequately prepared. It was a once-in-a-generation disaster, and no equipment or plan could have made much of a difference, they’ve both said to council members and media.

Brown recently proposed creating a “fleet manager” to oversee fire, police and public works vehicles. But that is not enough for some members of the city council, who have been now for weeks been calling for an official city manager.

In a letter to Mayor Brown calling for an inquiry to the Blizzard response, Fillmore District Council Member Mitch Nowakowski pointed out that nearby cities employ full-time emergency managers, as well as operations centers.

“In order to make the city safer in the future from human or natural disasters, disaster preparedness is critical.” he wrote, stating that “there were clear deficiencies in the emergency response to the December 2022 Blizzard that need to be immediately addressed.”

As criticism mounted over the slow, haphazard response last month, Poloncarz said in a news conference that the city had not attended any of the daily coordination meetings before or during the blizzard. He also called their response “embarrassing.”

Buffalo blizzard fuels racial and class divides in polarized city

One of the major issues was clearing and removing snow and stranded cars from the roads, which prevented food deliveries and recovery crews from getting to residents. Critics pointed out that the city’s 2022-2023 snow removal plan does not mention the word “blizzard.” Some of the equipment has also been around since 2005.

Buffalo’s police and firefighters, who helped save hundreds of residents by rescuing them off the street and sheltering them in their stations, have also been speaking out about their city’s inadequate emergency planning and equipment.

Last week, about 100 union members from Buffalo fire, police, and public works departments attended a Buffalo Common Council meeting to demand new equipment, something they say they’ve been asking for for years.

Ventresca has been especially outspoken about the dilapidated resources and poor communication, telling lawmakers that firefighters could not get to calls for emergency medical assistance as well as fires because of the clogged streets, equipment breakdowns, as well as weather.

Since a big part of their work is EMS, and their commissioner has been the technical emergency manager, Ventresca demanded that they should have the necessary resources for the cold season and “should be training for winter operations.”

Along with some other officials and lawmakers, he blamed some of the deaths on a “lack of planning and having to operate with outdated and broken-down rigs, equipment and firehouses.”

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