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Day 4: Roads reopen as cleanup continues; death toll at 13

The death toll from the back to back storms rose to 13 and the county is reporting 30 major roof collapses as the region moves into Day 4, recovering from the historic lake effect storm that is directly affecting a half million people in the Snow Belt area.

A 50-year-old man was found dead in his vehicle car buried in snow on Innsbruck Drive in Cheektowaga, several hundred yards off Union Road, Friday morning, Cheektowaga police said today. The man’s name has not been released.

And Friday night, county officials announced the death of a 68-year-old Cheektowaga man who suffered a heart attack while removing snow.

That latest death, along with the death overnight of an elderly woman after being transported from the Garden Gate nursing home, raises the death toll to 13.

The nursing home was evacuated Thursday because of structural damage. “We know that relocating people from nursing homes is a very tough thing,” said Deputy County Executive Rich Tobe.

Garden Gates Health Care Facility, however, issued a press statement this afternoon stating that only one resident died after successfully being moved to the AppleTree Business Park.

“We cannot confirm a second death of a Garden Gate resident,” the statement said. “This information is incorrect and has been misreported,”

The New York State Thruway reopened at 3 p.m. today, although local exit ramps between Williamsville and the Pennsylvania state line remain closed.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo returned to Albany, but came back to Buffalo on Friday to continue assessing the situation.

The snow has stopped falling for the most part.

“It’s just like a regular day in Buffalo,” Tobe said.

Still, county officials caution the area is not clear of danger.

Temperatures remain cold today, with the wind chill in some areas making it feel like zero degrees. County officials are advising residents to dress warm, and stay inside.

Driving bans are also still in effect across the county as emergency workers continue removing snow and clearing roads. Significant progress was made overnight clearing roads, particularly in South Buffalo where more than 200 pieces of equipment are in operation.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced Friday morning that 90 percent of the side streets have received a first pass through. The city hopes to reach all of the side streets by later today. As of Thursday night, more than 24,000 tons of snow had been removed from the area.

Still, the mayor reminded residents that a driving ban remains in effect.

The county is also preparing for floods as warmer temperatures move into the area this weekend. The warmer temperatures will come with rain that will make the snow heavier. As the snow melts it will release the equivalent of six inches of rain.

The National Weather Service is conducting tests today to determine exactly how much water is in the snow, and county officials expect to have a better idea how much flooding to expect later today.

“The warmth is going to be coming faster than the evaporation,” Tobe said. “That is the next phase of our challenges.”

Areas that typically flood should expect the same for Monday and Tuesday. Places that do not may see flooding to as the area’s creek slowly fill through Tuesday. People should remove valuables from their basements.

“When it starts, be extremely careful,” Tobe said.

Emergency workers are also monitoring hundreds of structures at risk for collapse. The thirty major roof collapses have been largely farm buildings and those with flat roofs. As many as 100 minor roof collapses have already occurred. Mobile homes are also vulnerable.

The county also reported the roof of a pharmacy in Elma came in.

Most of the collapses followed warning signs, such as groaning or cracks in walls. The county advises that residents who hear or see such warning signs should call 911 and consider evacuating.

County officials expect the number of collapses to increase once daylight breaks.

Residents who opt to venture out of their homes should also be cautious given the difficult conditions.

“It’s important to emphasize common sense,” Tobe said.

Meanwhile, residents continued to help each other dig out.

A Facebook group called WNY November 2014 Storm Help has been set up for residents to connect with each other, ask for help and report areas in need of assistance. Volunteers are on the page offering to help shovel people out, or bring supplies where needed.