Two people died in separate incidents at their homes when first responders could not get to them. There is no emergency service for much of the area, said Marc C. Poloncarz, county executive for Erie County, which includes Buffalo. A physician was coaching a woman over the phone who was delivering her sister’s baby at home. People were stranded for the night in restaurants as well as their homes, he said.
“This was a very, very bad night in our community,” Poloncarz said. “Thankfully, the sun is up.”
“This may turn out to be the worst storm in our community’s history, surpassing the famed blizzard of ’77 for its ferocity,” he added.
He said emergency response is not available in about two-thirds of the blizzard-affected area. Emergency vehicles themselves were stuck in the snow. More than 27.8 inches of snow fell at the airport in Buffalo. “It’s not something we’re proud of,” Poloncarz said.
He warned people not to call 911 or an emergency storm number unless they had life-threatening crises. Abandoned vehicles were causing additional problems, and there were concerns that snow-clogged exhaust vents were causing carbon monoxide or natural gas exhaust to back up into homes.
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has ordered the National Guard to respond, and units were on their way to the worst-hit parts of the region.
Snow was forecast to continue falling in the Erie County area throughout the day and possibly until early Christmas Day, Poloncarz said.
While Buffalo may have been seeing the monster storm’s worst, few parts of the country were unaffected by the cold, ice, snow and winds that have barreled across the nation in the past two days. Temperatures were below freezing in Houston on Saturday and below zero wind chills swept throughout much of the Midwest.
Power was knocked out for at least 1.5 million on Friday and temperatures plummeted, sometimes at record-breaking speeds. More than 1.6 million were still without power as of 11 a.m. on Saturday, according to PowerOutage.uswith hundreds of thousands out in Tennessee and Kentucky.
FedEx said on Saturday that the severe weather is causing disruptions to its hubs in Memphis and Indianapolis hubs and that delays could be expected for deliveries through Monday.
Air travel was snarled with thousands of flights canceled. Blizzards throttled the Great Lakes region. Even winter-tested cities such as Chicago and Detroit shut down holiday attractions and urged people to stay inside.
The storm that the National Weather Service described as “once in a generation” began Thursday and is expected to last through Christmas weekend, ultimately carving a 2,000-mile path across much of the country. The danger zone extended from Canada to Mexico, and from Washington state to Florida.
Jason Samenow, Danielle Paquette and Emmanuel Felton contributed to this report.