Storm-weary road crews and residents of western New York state struggled on Tuesday to dig out from a deadly weekend blizzard, with snow still falling and forecasts for rapid warming and rains that could cause flooding and turn the frozen landscape to slush.
The region in and around Buffalo, New York, downwind of Lake Erie and Lake Ontario emerged as ground zero for an Arctic deep freeze and massive winter storm that extended over most of the United States last week and through the Christmas holiday as far south as the Mexican border.
Confirmed storm-related deaths in New York’s Erie and Niagara counties rose to 32 on Tuesday, officials said, as snowfall began to taper off. Emergency crews continued locating and removing vehicles left buried under mounds of snow and drifts several feet high.
Some of the dead were found frozen in cars, others in snowbanks outdoors, while some died in medical emergencies such as cardiac arrest while shoveling snow, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz told reporters.
“We’re recovering from the worst storm I’ve ever seen, certainly in terms of death from mother nature’s wrath,” he said.
Nationwide, at least 60 people died in weather-related incidents in recent days, NBC News reported.
In and around Buffalo, up to 52 inches of snow fell over four days, and a bit more was expected by Tuesday night, according to the National Weather Service (NWS).
The situation was expected to change dramatically. The NWS forecast a rapid thaw later this week, with spring-like temperatures well above freezing and well above normal, accompanied by rain that could unleash flooding.