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Drivers who ignore ban impeding cleanup efforts

Drivers who continue to ignore the driving ban during the winter storm are becoming the biggest liability when it comes to clearing the snow-clogged roads, said county officials who pointed to nine-foot drifts on many thoroughfares, including Union Road and William Street.

Undersheriff Mark Wipperman of the Erie County Sheriff’s Office pointed to numerous vehicles that ended up in ditches after drivers disobeyed the driving ban. He called those drivers “selfish” for wasting public resources.

John Loffredo, the county’s commissioner of public works, said, “It’s much easier to keep a road open than it is to reopen a road that is closed. We don’t want to go backwards here, so please observe the travel bans.

Loffredo also addressed the growing concern about flooding.

“The good thing is that the ground isn’t frozen,” he said. “The bad thing is there’s six feet of snow that has to melt. The good thing is that it will probably melt over a couple of days. What we’re looking at is really an unknown as far as flooding goes. We’ve never experienced this before.”

Meanwhile, all available manpower has been called in to handle the calls for emergency service, Wipperman said during the second briefing today at the county Emergency Operation Center in Cheektowaga.

“During the last 24 to 36 hours, we handled more than 100 transport calls for dialysis,” Wipperman said. “We’ve also transported doctors and nurses to area hospitals.”

As the storm continued into its third day of record snowfall, more calls to 911 are requesting officials to check on the welfare of housebound relatives, Wipperman said.

“We’ll take those calls,” he said. “That’s our job. What we need from you is patience.”

Today also marked the third day that Meals on Wheels is out of service, noted County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who urged residents to check on their elderly neighbors.

County Health Commissioner Dr. Gail Burstein told residents with heart ailments to stay in their homes and not to exert themselves in freezing temperatures.

“This is a killer storm because eight members of the Western New York community are no longer with us,” Burstein said. “Many of those death were preventable.”

Burstein pointed to the recent death of a 60-year-old Cheektowaga man who was trying to get a snowblower out of his shed.

“Heavy lifting in cold temperatures increases demands on your heart,” said Bernstein, noting the Cheektowaga man succumbed to cardiac arrest.

Area hospitals, Burstein said, are “holding their own” in terms of staffing. Of continuing concern are patients who have been discharged who can’t make it home. Some hospitals have developed informal “holding centers” for those patients.

– Jane Kwiatkowski