17 deaths from Buffalo blizzard, as more reported on Christmas

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — At least 17 people have died during the blizzard in Western New York. Ten of the deaths have been confirmed in the City of Buffalo, three in Amherst and three in Cheektowaga, one of which was in the village of Depew.

A 27-year-old man was also found dead in the Town of Lockport on Sunday due to suspected carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Niagara County Sheriff’s Office. The ages of the deceased in Erie County range in ages 26-93.

“There may be more,” Poloncarz said during a storm response briefing. “I don’t want to say this is going to be it, because that would be fallacy for me to say that. Because we know there are people stuck in cars for more than two days. And there are people in homes that are below freezing now temperatures.”

Poloncarz says that the number is expected to increase throughout the evening on Sunday.

Forecasters said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm — had developed near the Great Lakes, stirring up blizzard conditions, including heavy winds and snow. The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions, paralyzing emergency response efforts and shutting down the airport through Monday, according to officials.

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.

Heavy snow covering the external furnace at a Town of Lockport residence caused the fatal carbon monoxide poisoning, according to the Niagara County Sheriff’s preliminary investigation. Another person was found unconscious and transported to St. Mary’s hospital for treatment.

Poloncarz did not disclose many details about the four deaths discovered overnight on Christmas.

“I don’t have the exact total of how they were found,” Poloncarz said. “I do know that some were found in cars and some were found actually on the street in snowbanks. I offer my deepest condolences to the families, some of them probably have not been actually notified yet.”

Poloncarz asserted Sunday that a driving ban remains in Erie County. Road conditions were so bad on Saturday that Buffalo Fire Department vehicles could not answer calls. According to a historian, this is the first that has happened during a winter storm, Poloncarz said, and the county is assisting AMR in getting 11 ambulances unstuck in the northtowns.

Even the Army National Guard had difficulty navigating roads, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said. But by Sunday morning, there were 200 servicemen on the ground, Hochul said, and another 200 expected to join them by Monday.

“The cavalry has arrived,” Hochul said. “We are here to help.”

Poloncarz said that he has been in communication with President Joe Biden and Gov. Hochul about a federal disaster declaration.

“The search and rescue missions never stopped during the storm,” said Daniel Neaverth, the county’s commissioner of emergency services. “They may have been hampered, but we were continually operating. More needs to be done, but there have been hundreds and hundreds of successful rescues.”

Power outages in the City of Buffalo might not be completely restored before Monday morning, Poloncarz said.

Those without power are advised to leave water faucets running on more than a drip to prevent pipes from bursting.

“This is a major disaster,” the county executive said. “This may turn out to be worst than the Blizzard of ’77”

Emergency services have resumed taking calls, Poloncarz said, but there are still significant delays due to impassable roads and stuck cars.

“Today is a major coordination effort,” Neaverth said. “With visibility improved, we can deploy even more assets and partners to get into areas that were unable to be accessed up until this point.”

Individual contractors can help the effort by focusing on those stuck in businesses and locations outside their homes, Poloncarz said. Snow contractors will not be ticketed for violating the driving ban, but clearing driveways could encourage people to drive on closed roads, the county executive warned.

Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country: 10 in Ohio, including an electrocuted utility worker and those killed in multiple car crashes; four motorists killed in crashes in Missouri and Kansas; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.