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Storm douses power for 18,000 south of Buffalo Temperature drop worsens situation

Nearly 18,000 homes and business had no power Thursday night after a powerful windstorm and snow ripped through the region earlier in the day.

The same wild storm system that spawned tornadoes in Oklahama swept over Western New York, buffeting the area with damaging gusts in the 50 to nearly 70-mph range.

As of 9 p.m., a little more than 8,600 National Grid customers and 9,200 NYSEG customers, mostly in the Southern Tier, were preparing to spend the night in the dark. At the peak of the outage Thursday, about 50,000 homes and businesses were without power, the victims of high winds and heavy, wet snow.

Officials for both utilities said repairs would likely not be completed until well into the day.

That brought cold comfort to those sitting in the dark, with the National Weather Service meteorologists expecting bitter temperatures in the lower 20s overnight, with the high reaching only the upper 20s today.

That marked a 30-degree drop since Tuesday's and Wednesday's warm spell, which led to ice jams and flooding Wednesday night.

Thursday night, flood warnings remained in effect for the Allegheny River at Olean, Ellicott Creek at Williamsville and Tonawanda Creek at Batavia and Rapids.

Ellicott Creek continued to experience minor flooding Thursday night. The water level was 8.2 feet and rising at 9 p.m. The flood stage is 8 feet and the creek was expected to crest at near 8.4 feet.

Slippery road conditions Thursday were blamed on a crash that left an Alden woman fighting for her life Thursday.

Annie Hawkes, 20, was traveling east on Genesee Street in Lancaster at about 11:30 a.m., when she lost control of her car on the slushy roadway and collided with a westbound tractor-trailer driven by Thomas Cochran, 60, of Milford, Pa.

Volunteers from the Millgrove Fire Company freed Hawkes from her vehicle. She was taken to Erie County Medical Center.

Lancaster police said Cochran attempted to avoid the collision but was unable to.

Elsewhere, Hamburg police said downed trees and broken power lines caused the closing of Route 5 near Rogers Road. Camp Road also was closed but has since been reopened.

State police closed Route 219 between Routes 39 and 391 because of vehicles slipping off the road. That stretch of highway was reopened by early afternoon.

The strong winds apparently were responsible for knocking down part of the back brick wall of a laundry-apartment building on Massachusetts Avenue at 18th Street on Buffalo's West Side.

That incident caused a rude awakening for one resident at about 5 a.m.

"My cousin was up, and he heard it," said Cody Ground, 20, of 18th Street. "He woke me up, I came out here, and I saw my car was crushed, with bricks all over it."

Late Thursday, the New York Power Authority's ice breaker vessel, the William H. Latham, was expected to head out to keep ice from clogging water intakes for the Niagara Power Project.

"We're getting the ice breaker ready to go out tonight to keep ice away from the intakes and keep the ice moving on the river," said Michael Saltzman, spokesman for the power authority.

He also said the ice boom at the mouth of the Niagara River at Lake Erie in Buffalo functioned properly under Thursday's strong winds, which raised the lake's level by about five feet.

Meteorologist Joe Pace said the wild weather is gone for now and we can expect a calm, albeit chilly weekend, with highs in the upper 20s to lower 30s and lows in the teens and 20s.

"We got a taste of spring there for a few days but it's still a ways off officially," Pace said.

News Staff Reporters T.J. Pignataro, Gene Warner, Lou Michel and Peter Simon contributed to this report.

e-mail: mbecker@buffnews.com

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