Deadly US blizzard cuts off Buffalo and brings misery to millions

At least 48 people are believed to have died in the storm

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Temperatures across swaths of the US remain frigid entering the new week after a brutal winter storm brought Christmas Day danger and misery to millions.

Intense snow and blistering cold gripped the east of the country.

The National Weather Service warned Monday of continued hazardous travel conditions for the coming days with much of the eastern US remaining in “a deep freeze” before “a moderating trend” sets in on Tuesday.

“Conditions are expected to slowly improve as we head into the last week of 2022,” the service said in a Monday morning update.

The UAE embassy in Washington issued a warning to Emiratis in the states affected by the winter storm to "exercise caution."

"We stress the need to follow the safety instructions issued by the US authorities, and to contact the embassy in emergency cases," the embassy said on Monday.

The death toll from the blizzard climbed to least 48 people on Monday, AP reported, with the toll expected to rise.

The extreme weather stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico, AP said.

About 60 per cent of the US population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, with temperatures drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.

A crisis situation unfolded in Buffalo, western New York, as a blizzard left the city marooned and emergency services unable to reach the worst-hit areas.

The state's governor called it an “epic, once-in-a-lifetime” weather disaster.

“It is [like] going to a war zone, and the vehicles along the sides of the roads are shocking,” said New York Governor Kathy Hochul, a native of Buffalo.

Ms Hochul on Sunday evening said residents were still in the throes of a “very dangerous, life-threatening situation” amid 2.4m snow drifts and power cuts, and warned anyone in the area to remain indoors.

More than 200,000 people across several eastern states woke up without power on Christmas morning and many more had their holiday travel plans upended, AFP reported, although the five-day-long storm featuring blizzard conditions and ferocious winds showed signs of easing.

The extreme weather sent wind chill temperatures in all 48 contiguous US states below freezing at the weekend, stranded holiday travellers as thousands of flights were cancelled and trapped residents in ice and snow-encrusted homes.

Officials described historically dangerous conditions in the snow-prone Buffalo region, with hours-long whiteouts and bodies discovered in vehicles and under snow banks as emergency workers struggled to search for those in need of rescue.

The city's international airport remains closed until Tuesday and a driving ban is in effect for all of Erie County.

“We now have what will be talked about, not just today but for generations [as] the blizzard of '22,” Ms Hochul said.

The brutality surpassed the devastating snowstorm of 1977 in “intensity, the longevity [and] the ferocity of the winds”, she said.

Due to frozen electric substations, some residents were not expected to regain power until Tuesday, with one frozen substation reportedly buried under 5.5m of snow, a senior county official said.

The National Weather Service warned that blizzard conditions in western New York's Great Lakes region caused by lake-effect snow continued on Sunday, with “additional snow accumulations of [about 60cm to 90cm] through tonight”.

The National Weather Service said on Monday that the major lake-effect snow event downwind of the Great Lakes would end by Tuesday.

One couple in Buffalo, across the border from Canada, told AFP on Saturday that with the roads completely impassable, they would not be making a 10-minute drive to see their family for Christmas.

Travel nightmare

“It is tough because the conditions are just so bad … a lot of fire departments aren't even sending out trucks for calls,” said Rebecca Bortolin, 40.

A broader travel nightmare was in full effect for millions.

The storm, one of the fiercest in decades, forced the cancellation of about 3,000 US flights on Sunday, in addition to 3,500 scrapped on Saturday and close to 6,000 on Friday, according to tracking website Flightaware.com.

Travellers remained stranded or delayed at airports throughout Christmas Day, including in Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York.

Road ice and whiteout conditions also led to the temporary closure of some of the nation's busiest transport routes, including the cross-country Interstate 70.

Drivers were being warned not to take to the roads as the nation reached what is usually its busiest time of year for travel.

The extreme weather has severely taxed electricity grids, with several utilities urging millions of people to reduce power use to minimise rolling cuts in places such as North Carolina and Tennessee.

At one point on Saturday, about 1.7 million customers were without electricity in the biting cold, according to tracker poweroutage.us.

The figure dropped substantially by Sunday night, although more than 48,000 customers in eastern states still lacked power.

In the Canadian province of British Columbia, a bus accident on Saturday, believed to be caused by icy roads, left four dead and 53 in hospital, including two still in critical condition early on Sunday.

Hundreds of thousands were left without power in Ontario and Quebec, many flights were cancelled in major cities and the passenger train service between Toronto and Ottawa was suspended.

Updated: December 26, 2022, 8:48 PM
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