The storm that killed dozens in the United States over the Christmas holidays continues to weigh on New York state and air transport across the country, in what has been dubbed the “storm of the century.”
The number of deaths related to the winter storm, most of which are road accidents, has risen to at least 50.
“Unfortunately, police expect the number to go up,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said on Twitter. Buffalo was paralyzed for five days due to snow and power outages, and more snow is expected Tuesday.
New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, who was born in Buffalo, likened the situation after the storm to a “war zone”.
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“It’s definitely the storm of the century,” Hochul told reporters Monday.
As temperatures drop, passengers and some residents fleeing their freezing homes are trapped on highways with no intervention to save them.
The problem was exacerbated when some areas became inaccessible to cars for long hours, and snow plows were unable to operate due to the ferocity of the storm, which necessitated intervention to rescue rescuers in some cases.
The family of Andell Taylor, 22, a Buffalo resident, said she died in her car after she was stranded on her way home from work.
A video sent by Taylor and posted by her sister shows her car covered in snow up to its windows.
And her family in North Carolina told a local television station that the emergency personnel, who themselves were trapped while trying to save her, found her dead 18 hours later, suggesting that the cause of death was carbon monoxide poisoning.
A man said he was trapped in his car on the streets of Buffalo with his four young children for 11 hours before they were rescued, according to the New York Times.
Zila Santiago, 30, said he kept his car’s engine running to keep him warm and fed his children some juice from the trunk, before finally being rescued at dawn by a passing snowplow.
In a city accustomed to snowstorms, some residents blamed the travel bans that were issued late Friday morning, saying that this contributed to the exacerbation of the disaster.
– “Worst birthday”
Snow storms, strong winds and freezing temperatures have led to the cancellation of about 20,000 flights in recent days, including more than 3,000 flights on Tuesday, according to the specialized tracking website, Flight Aware.
Most of the cancellations on Tuesday included Southwest Airlines, which canceled more than 60 percent of its flights due to successive logistical problems related to its network, which cost it a rebuke from the US government.
The Department of Transportation said on Twitter that it was “concerned about Southwest’s unacceptable cancellation rate” and would see if the company was “compliant with its customer service plan,” while the Senate committee that oversees aviation said it would look into reasons that “beyond weather.”
For his part, US President Joe Biden approved Monday a declaration of emergency in New York State to disburse funds to help it recover from the disaster.
Buffalo International Airport remains closed as of Wednesday morning, and a driving ban remains in effect in the city, where thousands have been without power.
“You can certainly go out and walk to check on neighbors, go to shops that are open, etc., but don’t drive,” city official Mark Poloncars warned.
Longtime Buffalo resident Bill Sherlock told AFP his house was surrounded by about four feet of snow, but he was lucky the power didn’t go out and he had a good supply of food that he used all weekend.
The 38-year-old lawyer added that those less fortunate “may have had the worst Christmas of their lives,” noting that some homes in his neighborhood have been without electricity since Friday.
Sherlock has spent three hours clearing snow from his driveway, and may wait another day before venturing out to drive it for the first time in nearly a week. “We’re not going anywhere unless we have to,” he says.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told CNN that several incidents of looting were reported in the city over the Christmas weekend, and eight people were arrested.
The National Weather Service predicted snowfall in isolated areas of western New York on Tuesday, but a thaw is expected to begin.
Temperatures are expected to reach 10 degrees Celsius by the end of the week, though officials have warned that melting snow could lead to minor flooding.
Severe weather over the weekend sent temperatures below freezing in all mainland US states, including areas along the Mexico border where some newly arrived migrants are struggling to find shelter.
The power outage, at its peak on Saturday, affected 1.7 million people in the bitter cold, according to the specialized “Power Outrage” website.
The ice also led to the temporary closure of some of the busiest transportation routes, including a portion of the transnational Interstate 70.
The New York governor said on Twitter Tuesday that the reopening of many of New York’s major highways, as well as border crossings with Canada, is “an indication that we are finally past the peak of this once-in-a-generation storm.”