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Why some communities are recovering more quickly than others

Cheektowaga and Lancaster lifted their driving bans early Friday and a couple others towns did the same later in the evening.

Meanwhile, Orchard Park, Hamburg and some other communities continue digging out.

How is it that some of the harder-hit towns, including Lancaster and Cheektowaga, got their roads clear sooner than others?

The answer may be fourfold.

To begin with, two lake-effect storms struck this week, and the second one on Thursday walloped some communities – especially Hamburg and Orchard Park - harder than others.

Next, some highway departments hired private contractors, and they did it quickly.

Cheektowaga and Lancaster, for example, began paying outside contractors shortly after snow started falling Tuesday.

Third, those who relied on help from Erie County or the state had to wait as leaders first directed emergency crews and National Guardsmen to shuttle patients to hospitals and deliver medicine to the homebound before tackling the streets.

And fourth, location also played a role. State and county equipment couldn’t easily get to some of the communities with the most need because access roads were not passable.

For some of those towns, it’s been a frustrating week.

“Quite frankly, I don’t know why they don’t send pieces of equipment to all the communities that need them,” said Aurora Town Supervisor James J. Bach. “I know it’s a catastrophic storm, and a lot of people are in need. I would just hope to see a better response.”

It wasn’t long after the snow started that Cheektowaga and Lancaster officials contacted private crews for help.

“That’s how we got the roads open – our workforce and subcontractors,” said Cheektowaga Supervisor Mary F. Holtz. “We got hammered the first day,” said Lancaster Highway higher Superintendent Daniel J. Amatura.“I couldn’t wait for the county. I sought out help.”

The cost has yet to be tallied, but officials know it will be pricey. Nonetheless, the officials said, they have an obligation to get their roads open and keep their residents safe. They hope to qualify for reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Buffalo also brought in private contractors Tuesday, but with narrow streets – many riddled with abandoned cars – the city’s South Buffalo driving ban remained in effect Friday.

As private plows worked in those communities, some smaller towns remained frustrated, waiting for Erie County and the state to send them needed equipment. Some communities reported equipment arrived Thursday. On Friday, others stopped waiting, and also called in private companies. Once they did, they, too, lifted their bans. Aurora and East Aurora officials said they opened their roads Friday night.

“We decided we just couldn’t wait any longer. We need to hire the private companies,” Aurora Supervisor Bach said. “We’re going to have to think about the money later.”

East Aurora Mayor Allan A. Kasprzak took the same approach, hiring private crews Friday.

“I see all these politicians on TV, saying things are going great, and I’m not seeing that in the Southtowns,” he said.

Travel bans remained Friday night in other communities, among them Orchard Park and Hamburg, both hit hard by the second round of snow Thursday.

Orchard Park has eight snowplows, each staffed by two-man crews, plus a back-up plow. During a typical storm, that can clear the entire town in four hours, Supervisor Patrick J. Keem said. Not this one.

“We couldn’t get them down the street,” he said of town plows. “They’re not heavy enough.”

The turning point for Orchard Park, he said, was when six big plows from the state Department of Transportation arrived Thursday and spent the night clearing main roads.

Hamburg also was still digging out Friday. Town officials did not respond to calls for comment, but the town on Thursday, after getting hit with three more feet of snow, sent a telephone message to residents: “Our Highway Department has requested assistance, however, has received none,” the message said. “... We requested additional resources, quadrupling the capacity of our Highway Department. Inasmuch as every other community in Erie County impacted by the storm had the same idea, we received no help.”

“We hired private contractors to assist us and executed a game plan. However, our efforts were again impacted to slowdown due to all the abandoned vehicles, so we did not make as much progress as we had hoped,” the message also said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo told reporters during a Friday afternoon news conference that emergency equipment was deployed on a “priority basis” based on public safety and public health. It’s why South Buffalo, with Mercy Hospital, got state help before Aurora, Orchard Park and Hamburg.

“This was not primarily a street-clearing operation,” Cuomo said. “This was a protection of human life and public safety operation.”

“If a plow is not on your block, that’s not a personal slight,” Cuomo said.

Location also played a role in how quickly extra equipment could get into a town, County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said.

In Hamburg and Evans, Poloncarz said, emergency crews needed to use three major routes to access areas – the Thruway and Routes 5 and 20. “All three were a mess,” Poloncarz said.

Buffalo News reporter Dan Herbeck contributed to this report. email: sschulman@buffnews.com and djgee@buffnews.com