The extreme weather sent wind chill temperatures in all 48 contiguous US states below freezing over the weekend. AFP / Reuters
A brutal winter storm that brought Christmas chaos to millions of Americans will be slow to dissipate, the US National Weather Service (NWS) said on Monday, after intense snow and frigid cold caused power outages, travel delays and at least 32 deaths across the eastern part of the country.
"Much of the eastern United States will remain in a deep freeze through Monday before a moderating trend sets in on Tuesday," the NWS said in its latest advisory.
In Buffalo, western New York, a blizzard left the city marooned, with emergency services unable to reach the worst-hit areas.
"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 Buffalo, where eight-foot (2.4-meter) snow drifts and power outages made for life-threatening conditions.
Hochul told reporters Sunday evening that residents were still in the throes of a "very dangerous life-threatening situation" and warned anyone in the area to remain indoors.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll from the storm had risen from three to seven overnight in the Buffalo region in far western New York, where snow on Sunday brought total accumulation to nearly four feet (1.2 metres).
Vehicles move along a highway in Louisville, Kentucky, under freezing temperatures. AFP
Some of the four reported dead on Sunday morning were found in cars and some in snow banks, Poloncarz said, adding that the death count might still rise.
“This is not the Christmas any of us hoped for nor expected, but try to have as merry a Christmas as possible today,” Poloncarz said on Twitter on Sunday. “My deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.
New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters that she had been in touch with the White House and that the Biden administration would support the state’s request for a federal disaster declaration. “This will go down in history as Buffalo’s most devastating storm. This one is for the ages and we’re still in the middle of it,” Hochul said.
MORE FLIGHTS CANCELLED
The storm forced the cancellation of nearly 3,000 US flights on Sunday, in addition to some 3,500 scrapped Saturday and nearly 6,000 Friday, according to tracking website Flightaware.com.
More than 1,000 US flights had already been cancelled just hours into Monday, the website reported.
The scope of the storm has been nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.
Residents brave the frigid temperatures and heavy gusts of wind in downtown Detroit. AFP
About 60% of the US population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.
Some 1,346 domestic and international flights were cancelled as of early on Sunday, according to the tracking site FlightAware.
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, paralysing emergency response efforts — New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded on Saturday — and shutting down the airport through Tuesday morning, according to officials. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches at 7am on Sunday.
Daylight on Sunday revealed cars nearly covered by 6-foot snowdrifts and thousands of houses, some adorned in unlit holiday displays, dark from a lack of power. With snow swirling down untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned that an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas through early on Monday morning amid wind gusts of 40 mph.
Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes on Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to seven in Erie County, where County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there may be more dead.
“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
In this drone image, snow blankets a neighbourhood, in Cheektowaga, New York. AP
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get out of their homes to anywhere that had heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city. But with streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
“There’s one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit.”
In New York, more than 39,000 households were still without power on Sunday, including 27,000 in Erie County, as crews battled high winds and found substations damaged. Hochul said that even the National Guard, which now has 200 people on the ground and another 200 expected by Monday, struggled with getting stuck in the snow.
In Erie County, about 500 motorists were stranded in their vehicles on Friday night into Saturday morning, with the National Guard called in to help with rescues, Poloncarz said. A countywide driving ban remained in effect on Sunday.
Millions of Americans endured bone-chilling temperatures, blizzard conditions, power outages and canceled holiday gatherings on Friday from a winter storm that forecasters said was nearly unprecedented in its scope, exposing about 60% of the US population to some sort of winter weather advisory or warning.
On the other hand, a Las Vegas-based tour bus heading to the Grand Canyon rolled over in northwestern Arizona on Friday, killing one person and critically injuring two others, authorities said.
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They explained that the noise made by vehicles disturbs public peace and creates a state of panic, tension, and nervousness among other drivers, road users and residents of neighborhoods, especially children, patients and the elderly.