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Across Erie County, plow crews are challenged by snow, irritated by abandoned cars

From Alden to West Seneca, plow crews plugged away at the piles of snow Wednesday, but the abandoned cars that littered the roads slowed their progress.

Town officials expressed frustration with motorists who ignored driving bans and ended up stuck in a road.

“People don’t understand the driving ban,” said Dan Amatura, the Lancaster town highway superintendent. “You would think it was still a Saturday afternoon the way they’re driving around.

“There’s cars still stuck on Broadway and all over side roads, and we can’t get our vehicles through,” he said.

The day after an epic lake-effect storm, municipal officials – sleep-deprived and worried – tried to obtain more heavy equipment to take advantage of the brief break in the weather Wednesday before the next storm hit.

South Buffalo

City officials reported progress cleaning up snow-clogged streets, and while no promises were being made, officials said they hope to lift the driving ban for the weekend.

“I hope. By the weekend is a good goal,” Public Works Commissioner Steven J. Stepniak said.

Mayor Brown W. Brown, who met with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Wednesday, asked if the state could provide the city with 65 additional pieces of equipment – 15 high-lifts, 40 dump trucks and 10 tow trucks.

Even before the additional equipment arrives, Stepniak said his crews, working with private contractors hired by the city, had about 90 pieces of equipment, and were able to do curb-to-curb clearing on the main South Buffalo roadways. Crews planned to go into side streets overnight, he said.

Also, Brown said, city police and plows were able to assist two trucks carrying critical supplies to South Buffalo Mercy Hospital.

– Susan Schulman

Cheektowaga

Heavy snow brought down the roof at a former Rosa’s store Wednesday, damaging one of the warehouses for a Christmas retailer during its busiest time of the year.

The roof collapse at the warehouse for Dave Gordon’s christmascentral.com business also resulted in a natural gas leak that led a neighboring health care facility about 20 feet from the warehouse to move 20 elderly residents to another part of its facility away from the leak.

Gordon said about one-third of the roof on the 100,000-square-foot warehouse at 2331 Union Road collapsed under the weight of accumulated snow.

He said the building held about 30 percent of the operation’s inventory, with tens of thousands of orders remaining to be shipped before Christmas.

While the business can still ship items from Gordon’s other warehouses in the area, he estimated that the roof collapse would result in losses worth millions of dollars.

Gordon said people at the Garden Gate Health Care Facility at 2365 Union saw the roof collapse, smelled gas and called 911 around 6 a.m.

“We immediately smelled the gas,” said Sue Grigg, administrator of health care services at Garden Gate.

“The back and side walls are collapsed and precariously leaning, so because we couldn’t go outside, we evacuated the unit past the fire doors into a safe zone, away from that area,” she said.

National Fuel workers arrived and turned off the gas, she said.

– James Staas and Mark Sommer

Evans

North Evans Fire Co. hosted 157 unexpected guests, some from as far away as Poland and China, Tuesday night as a result of the snowstorm that steered motorists off the Thruway at the New York-Pennsylvania border.

Some of those motorists tried to drive eastbound through the storm on Route 20. They made it no farther than Eighteen Mile Creek in North Evans, where a steep hill proved too treacherous, causing more than 100 tractor-trailers to pull over and creating a logjam of vehicles that stretched for miles, according to Nick Mecca, chief of the North Evans Fire Co.

“Once they start spinning, they can’t get out of there,” Mecca said. “It ended up being basically a big parking lot.”

Sometimes using their own snowmobiles, volunteers from the fire department transported stranded motorists and passengers much of the day and night Tuesday.

They were treated to home- cooked meals, made from ingredients volunteers obtained from their own homes.

“Our members and auxiliary members were playing banquet cooks,” Mecca said.

The travelers were mostly from out of town, just passing through on their way to places such as Quebec, New York City and Massachusetts, said Mecca.

“Very few of them were local. They were all travelers and not familiar with the area at all,” he said. “For some of them, it was the first time they had seen snow. These people just had no idea what they were driving into.”

Twenty-eight travelers stayed overnight in the home of the mother of one of the fire company’s assistant chiefs.

Many of the travelers left the fire station as soon as the heavy snows subsided. Route 20 had been plowed enough by then to allow traffic through.

But a couple dozen travelers remained at the fire hall as of Wednesday afternoon because their cars were inoperable.

“Their vehicles are completely buried or off the road in a ditch,” Mecca said.

– Jay Tokasz

Alden

Plow drivers in Alden were slowed by a glut of abandoned cars on Walden Avenue and Genesee Street.

“It’s basically plow up to a car, tow it out and continue plowing,” said Ryan Sheedy, Alden’s emergency management coordinator.

And despite a driving ban in the town and village, police and cleanup crews were encountering plenty of motorists.

“People out driving hinders our plowing,” said Sheedy, who implored drivers to keep their vehicles parked at home. “There’s still a travel ban. I know people need to get to places, get to food and supplies, but they have to stay off the roads.”

– Jay Tokasz

Lancaster

Highway crews plowed around the clock but struggled to move the vast amounts of snow.

Lancaster town and village officials hired contractors with front-end loaders and high-lifts to help their crews. Clarence and Amherst town highway workers also helped out.

Cars were stuck along Broadway, Central Avenue and Brunswick, near the Tops store.

“The cars are abandoned and everywhere,” said William G. Cansdale, the village’s public works superintendent.

Cansdale also complained that the driving ban hadn’t been effective.

“It really was a problem at the height of the storm. Our plow trucks got stuck as they tried to avoid vehicles on the road,” he said. “It led to a delay in plowing the village streets. So we fell behind.”

Superintendent Michael J. Vallely said the schools would likely be closed Thursday for the third consecutive day.

– Karen Robinson

Orchard Park

More than 120 abandoned vehicles were checked for drivers and passengers.

Three vehicles were hit by plows and abandoned at intersections.

And three snowplows got stuck for a time.

Town employees, meanwhile, braced for a second round of lake-effect snow.

A driving ban remained in place.

“We’re going to get it again,” said Supervisor Patrick Keem.

He expected plows to start clearing snow again early this morning.

The town sent alerts warning people to clear fire hydrants and furnace vents on the CodeRed alert phone app it’s been using since the blizzard last January. A third dispatcher was added to the usual two scheduled to work at the police center, Keem said.

Stranded travelers went to the Presbyterian Church, fire halls and the Municipal Center.

The north side of town, toward Milestrip Road and Lake Avenue, was hit hardest with about 4½ to 5 feet of snow. The southern section, by the Municipal Center and Chestnut Ridge Park, got closer to 3 feet, said Fred Piasecki, highway superintendent.

The abandoned cars and the sheer volume of snow stymied plow drivers, he said.

“The plow trucks just can’t push that amount of snow,” Piasecki said. “It takes more time to do the clean-up process because you’ve got to get the cars out of the way.”

– Michelle Kearns

Aurora

When Aurora’s plow trucks ran out of diesel fuel, East Aurora supplied extra fuel so crews could keep operating through the afternoon break in snow.

Highway department trucks went back out in the sunshine to push 7-foot piles farther off roads and to prepare for the next onslaught.

“Even though the sun’s out right now, we are by no means stopping,” said David Gunner, Aurora’s highway superintendent. “I just worked 34 hours straight. We’re getting ready for the next band of snow that’s supposed to be coming.”

To get the snow off the streets, crews in six trucks worked in rotation with replacement drivers who were at the ready to take over as soon people tired. This included two new crew members in their early 20s who were officially “baptized” by all the storm work, Gunner said.

“It was scary sending them out,” he said, explaining he wasn’t sure at first how well they would handle the grueling pace.

They did just fine.

“When you get thunder snow, that’s when it’s really barreling down on you. They were real brave. They didn’t stop, they kept going,” Gunner said.

– Michelle Kearns

Lackawanna

Lackawanna Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski said he issued a state of emergency, which included a driving ban, but it was not heeded by some motorists.

Lackawanna was not yet receiving much help from the outside, though the Town of Albion in Orleans County offered some assistance in the form of snowmobilers who helped to rescue motorists stranded in their vehicles.

“We’ve had 46 people who have made their way to one of our three fire halls. We’re taking some others to our senior center,” said Szymanski. “We’re accommodating them the best we can.”

He said the city is in dire need of payloaders to push the heavy snow from the roads.

“We do have contractors who were willing to offer services. The problem is they’re having a difficult time getting people into Lackawanna to get that equipment here. It’s that bad,” Szymanski said.

– Harold McNeil

West Seneca

West Seneca Supervisor Sheila M. Meegan early Wednesday evening said even more progress was being made in clearing main roads in the town, especially once the National Guard had been dispatched to help.

“I do know that the National Guard has come in and they’re working on Ridge Road, Seneca Street, Union Road. I do know that the town is making some great inroads on those primary roads. The secondary (roads), they’re working on,” Meegan said.

Earlier in the day, the town’s highway superintendent, Matt English, said main thoroughfares were partially cleared, though only for use by emergency vehicles. Otherwise, the town’s driving ban remained in place.

Like many other residents in the town, Meegan said she was stuck at home, from which she had been conducting the town’s business since the storm first hit late Monday.

“I am literally stuck in my home. We have six feet of snow. My street hasn’t been plowed, so I am working right from home answering calls ... attending to the town’s business,” Meegan said.