The death toll from a devastating winter blizzard that left much of the United States frozen has risen to at least 25 in a hard-hit region in western New York state, according to authorities, as tens of thousands remain without power.
During a news conference Monday, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at least 25 people died as a result of the storm that hit the area over the Christmas weekend.
The entire district, which includes the city of Buffalo and is home to around 950,000 people, remained in a state of emergency, Poloncarz told reporters. He added that Buffalo is still banned from driving too, as the city is “impassable in most areas.”
“This is a terrible situation,” he said, explaining that the number of storm-related deaths rose by 12 overnight, including cases of people found in snowbanks or in their cars, or who died from cardiac events while ploughing or blowing snow.
“The severity of the storm was worse than the snowstorm of 1977,” said Poloncarz, referring to a three-day storm that killed almost 30 people decades ago.
25 storm-related deaths have been confirmed by the medical examiner’s office so far.
Please remember that not all deaths are due to storms, but 25 have been officially confirmed.
Once again, my deepest, sincere condolences to everyone who has lost a loved one.
— Mark Poloncarz (@markpoloncarz) December 26, 2022
The weekend storm — which New York Governor Kathy Hochul said would go down in history as “the blizzard of ’22” and “the blizzard of the century” — has now been blamed for at least 48 deaths in the US.
In western New York, numbing cold combined with howling winds and heavy snow with a “sea effect” — the result of moisture absorbed by cold air moving across warmer lake water — created the harsh conditions.
blizzard left car drivers stranded, power cut off thousands of people and made it difficult for emergency services to reach residents trapped in their cars and homes.
Ditjak Ilunga from Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way with his daughters to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas on Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city.
were able to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, were shaken by the wind and were almost buried in snow.
4:00 AM on Saturday (09:00 GMT), when her fuel was almost empty, Ilunga made the desperate decision to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried his six-year-old daughter Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched her Pomeranian puppy and followed his footprints through the drift paths.
“If I stay in this car, I’ll die here with my kids,” Ilunga recalled thinking. He cried as the family walked through the shelter doors. “I’ll never forget that in my life.”
of thousands of homes and businesses were left without power on Monday as rescue and reconstruction efforts continued. According to PowerOutage.us, at 7 AM Eastern Time (12:00 GMT) on Monday, fewer than 100,000 customers were without power — less than a peak of 1.7 million.
The storm ended an arctic frost and winter storm front that had spanned most of the USA for days and extended south to the Mexican border.
US President Joe Biden had warned Americans at the end of last week not to heed local warnings and to take the storm — which he described as “dangerous and threatening” — seriously.
“It’s really serious weather, and it ranges from Oklahoma to Wyoming and Maine,” Biden had said.
On Monday morning, the National Weather Service warned that the “lake effect” snow would persist in the Buffalo, New York area until early Tuesday before weakening late Tuesday afternoon.
Hundreds of National Guard troops assisted local first responders and state police in rescuing people trapped in homes and cars, carrying out health checks, and delivering food and basic necessities.
Poloncarz in Erie County also said residents needed to stay put as an additional 32 cm (1 foot) of snow was possible on Monday.
“It’s not the end yet,” he said. “We’re not here.”
This was confirmed by Hochul, the governor of New York, who said at a news conference in Buffalo later in the day that the situation remained dangerous.
She told people to stay home while crews continued to plow and salt the roads and worked to get abandoned vehicles out of the snow.
“This blizzard is a blizzard for eternity. Surely it’s the blizzard of the century,” said Hochul, who told reporters that she was stunned by what she saw while exploring Buffalo.
“It’s like driving into a war zone and the vehicles on the sides of the roads are shocking,” said the governor, describing 2.4 m (eight-foot) high drifts against houses as well as snowplows and emergency vehicles that are “buried” in the snow. “This is a war with Mother Nature.”