Calling this week’s lake effect snowstorm “historic” and cautioning that things will get worse before they get better, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo promised hundreds of pieces of equipment and accompanying personnel to help the area dig out.
Cuomo added that the public sector will respond as best it can to the next wave of snow. He promised major assistance from the New York National Guard, and equipment from all over New York and neighboring states.
“It is an extraordinary situation,” the governor told reporters at the Thruway Authority’s Walden Avenue maintenance barns. “It will get worse before it gets better.”
The governor also assigned most of the blame for stranded motorists to those who bypassed gates and illegally entered the Thruway after it was closed. He emphasized that anyone stranded - including those for more than 24 hours - were offered conveyance from the road, although some motorists contest that.
The governor was joined by state Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald, Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz.
McDonald announced that the Thruway, Route 400 and Route 219 will remain closed in preparation for the next expected onslaught of snow.
Most of all, Cuomo asked for cooperation.
“When we say stay at home, we really mean stay at home,” he said. “You will get stuck and further complicate the situation. It is almost inevitable.”
Cuomo said state and other personnel are planning for a “four to five day workload.”
“Snow is going to fall once again,” he cautioned during the press conference.
Cuomo then embarked on a driving tour to assess the situation across the area, departing with a convoy of about a half dozen state and National Guard vehicles.
Along the way he stopped to talk to stranded truck drivers, asking if their needs were being met.
Mayor Brown said the snow was so heavy and plentiful “that you really can’t plow in a traditional way.”
Over 200 plows have been brought in from outside the area to assist with removal.
Cuomo and other officials are hoping things will warm up by the weekend, but that, too, poses a problem – flooding.
That’s just one of the potential repercussions of this week’s mammoth storm that promises to deliver problems for days to come, including the continued closure of the Thruway.
Truck drivers and other motorists waiting near the Thruway on-ramp at Camp Road are under the assumption the Thruway will not reopen anytime soon and are seeking alternate travel plans.
Charles Miller, a truck driver heading to Liverpool, was told by State Police the Thruway would not likely reopen until Friday. State Department of Transportation workers said concerns about the pending lake-effect snow and more travelers being stranded would impact the decision when to reopen it.
The Thruway appears cleared at the Camp Road overpass and points west. A couple of westbound tractor-trailers, presumably freed from being stuck, could be seen heading west on the Thruway, but no new traffic was being allowed to enter.
Miller, based on what State Police told him, decided to get on Route 20 westbound and head south into Pennsylvania to get on 86 East, 390 North and eventually the eastbound Thruway in an area where it is open.
“If the Thruway was opening in a matter of hours,” Miller said, “I would wait it out. I know the way I’m going is much longer, but I cannot be sitting here for two more days.”
Meanwhile, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said county leaders are looking at the possibility of applying for federal disaster aid to help dig out. They have named the storm that’s killed at least six people “knife” because it cut “in the heart of Erie County.”
Although Poloncarz said the storm needed to be named to qualify for funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials with that agency say that’s not the case.
“FEMA does not require names for winter storms,” said Susan Buchanan, a spokesperson for the National Weather Service. “They follow the protocol of the National Weather Service, and we do not name winter storms.”
The Weather Channel independently often names winter storms, Buchanan said.
The latest snowfall totals show 65 inches in South Cheektowaga, 63 inches in Lancaster, 60 inches in Gardenville and 57 inches in West Seneca, according to the National Weather Service. (Map of snowfall totals)
It’s been deadly and dangerous.
There have been seven deaths attributed to the storm.
In Genesee County, a county employee died Tuesday after suffering a heart attack while snowblowing, according to The Batavian.
In Erie County, a 46-year-old man was found dead inside his car buried under snow in Alden, officials announced this morning.
Forty stranded motorists near the Lackawanna tolls have been rescued from the Thruway and taken to an Amherst warming shelter. But dozens of vehicles remain stranded on the Thruway, and some people are still inside them. There’s this tale of dozens of drivers stuck for 35 hours and counting.
In the height of the storm, Capt. Jeff Hartman of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office Jail Management Division led 50 stranded motorists at Route 179 and Route 5 on a 1-mile walk to warmth in a gas station where hot coffee and food was provided.
And two separate lake-effect storm warnings were posted on one day for metro Buffalo. The first warning expired at 1 p.m., while the other starts at 11 p.m.
After the lake-effect band moved north, the storm fizzled out.
It’s a storm that’s rekindling Buffalo’s reputation for snow.
Earlier today, the Walden Galleria in Cheektowaga said on its website that it would delay opening today until 1 p.m.
“We will closely monitor the weather conditions and coordinate with local officials over the next several hours in an effort to determine the best course of action for the shopping center and our retailers,” it said.
But the mall management later informed its retailers that it would not open today, according to an employee at one business in the mall.
Assistant Cheektowaga Police Chief James Speyer said one of his officers confirmed with the mall’s director of security that the mall is closed today.
The Buffalo Bills are faced with the challenge of clearing a total of 220,000 tons of snow from Ralph Wilson Stadium and the surrounding stadium property and have put out a call for people who want to help tackle the job. Sports Illustrated’s Peter King tweeted that the National Football League – not the Bills – will decide if the time or location for Sunday’s game against the Jets is changed from the 1 p.m. kickoff in Orchard Park. Bills players have taken to social media to share their experiences with the storm.
A Cheektowaga health care facility was evacuated this morning after the former Rosa’s superstore on Union Road in Cheektowaga collapsed.
A Thruway supervisor reached at the Lackawanna toll station this morning said 22 stranded motorists were being housed at the facility. Asked if they had been rescued from their vehicles and transported to the warm building, she replied: “If you want to put it that way, yes.”
Erie County officials today were emphatic that people stay off the roads and obey travel bans.
“Part of the problem on Tuesday was that the plows couldn’t get through the roads because of cars stuck in the snow,” Deputy County Executive Richard Tobe said in a statement. “Hopefully, today, people will be mindful of the travel bans in place so that we can clear the roads as much as possible before the next blast of snow. The important thing to remember is that the storm isn’t over and people should prepare for at least two more days of bad winter weather.”
Emergency management personnel in Cattauraugus County also urging residents to abide by travel bans, described the hardest-hit areas as “paralyzed.”
In terms of closings, many school districts, including Buffalo Public Schools, remain closed.
At the airport
All runways at Buffalo Niagara International Airport are open and functioning, according to Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer. But many flights are being cancelled or delayed by individual airlines, he said, simply because travelers are unable to reach the airport.
“Yes, the runways are open but if people can’t get to the airport because of driving bans, they are making decisions to cancel the flights,” he said.
Southwest Airlines, for example, has cancelled all flights except to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and Las Vegas. Hartmayer said.
“It’s all on an airline-by-airline basis,” he said, adding 40 flights with a capacity for 3,700 passengers were cancelled on Tuesday.
Metro Bus service
Metro Bus service continues to be severely affected, Hartmayer said. The latest service cancellations involve Nos. 14, Abbott; 15, Seneca; 16, South Park; 27, Wende; 36, Hamburg; 42, Lackawanna; 46, Lancaster Loop; 68, George Urban Express; 69, Alden Express; 70, East Aurora Express; 72, Orchard Park Express; 74, Hamburg Express; 75, West Seneca Express, and 76, Lotus Bay Express;
The following routes are now running on alternate routes: Nos. 1, William; 2, Clinton; 4, Bailey, and 23 Fillmore.
Hartmayer said seven Metro buses and several paratransit vehicles became stranded in the affected areas on Tuesday, but he did not know this morning if they had yet been recovered.
“All the drivers loyally stayed with their vehicles,” he said.
No passengers were left stranded on board.
Metro Rail, which Hartmayer described as “old reliable,” is running on schedule.
All NFTA adjudication hearings scheduled for Transit Police Headquarters at 1404 Main St., have also been postponed, according to Chief George W. Gast.
States of emergency, closures
A limited state of emergency remains in place in South Buffalo, Mayor Byron W. Brown’s office said this morning, while Erie County also has declared a state of emergency.
In Orchard Park, police said this morning the state of emergency remains in effect, with town and village offices, the senior and recreation centers and courts closed today.
“Stay off the streets, many are not passable,” Orchard Park Police said in a statement.
All state and county courts in downtown Buffalo are closed, along with Buffalo, Batavia and Lackawanna city courts. All state and county courts are also closed in Genesee County. Jurors should not report.
Erie County government offices are open today, but only employees from areas not impacted by the weather should report.
A travel advisory was lifted for Wyoming County as of 7:30 a.m. Travel bans in Alexander, Bethany, Pavilion, Pembroke and LeRoy in Genesee County also have been lifted.
Classes have been canceled at SUNY Buffalo State.
State offices are closed today in Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Genesee and Wyoming counties. Anyone with an appointment at state offices should call to reschedule. Essential employees should report to work as directed by management. State court employees should contact their supervisors to find out whether they should report.
On Tuesday, officials announced four people have died due to the storm, including three people who had heart attacks and another who was killed while trying to push a car out of a drift. Two of the three who died because of heart ailments were shoveling snow at the time.
The man found in his car, whose identity has not been released, was near Two Rod Road and Broadway in Alden.
None of the fatalities occurred in the City of Buffalo, Brown said during an 11 a.m. briefing.
So far, more than 5,000 tons of snow, in 230 truckloads, has been removed from South Buffalo.
The main roads in South Buffalo are open for emergency service vehicles only.
There had been as many as 70 people stranded in city firehouses, a figure that’s down to five, Brown said. Since 6 a.m., the city’s received 12 new calls from stranded individuals. All have been taken home or to the hospital, he said.
There are 90 pieces of equipment performing snow removal in the city at this point.
Amtrak service west of Albany remains temporarily suspended. It will stay that way at least until this afternoon.
Seneca Buffalo Creek Casino closed at 9 a.m. and will reopen when weather permits, a spokesperson said.
The Peace Bridge remains open today as it has throughout the storm, but with traffic that Peace Bridge Authority General Manager Ron Rienas described as “practically non-existent.”
“We only have one toll lane open, and had to keep some of our people here on overtime – a lot of our staff live in the South Towns and couldn’t get here,” he said.
Truck traffic has been affected most, because virtually all rigs have nowhere to go with the closure of the Niagara Thruway and mainline Thruway, and the authority is turning them away as they approach the international span. As a result, hundreds of trucks are pulling into Ontario truck stops and rest areas to await re-opening of the roads.
“There are lots of trucks all up the QEW because we ask them if they’re headed to the Thruway,” he said, “and if they are we don’t let them cross.”
After checking truckers’ manifests, Rienas said only “a very, very few” rigs headed for local delivery in Buffalo have been allowed to cross the bridge.
One of those stopped trucks carried 16 thoroughbred race horses en route to race tracks in Florida, Rienas said, and they were diverted to the Fort Erie Race Track for temporary housing.
“They were put in the Fort Erie stables where I’m sure they’re being well taken care of,” he said. “Once we’re back on track, they’ll continue heading south.
News Staff Reporters Jane Kwiatkowski, Mark Sommer, James Staas and Susan Schulman contributed to this report.
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