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Snowvember storm interrupts burials at Lackawanna cemetery

Even the dead were affected by the lake-effect storm that dumped up to 7 feet of snow on a half million people in the Snow Belt.

At the 166-year-old Holy Cross Cemetery in Lackawanna, the Snowvember storm knocked down trees, made cemetery roads impassable, prevented employees from getting into work and delayed a dozen burials.

Bodies were stored in local funeral homes for as long as six days while cemetery employees waited for the weather to improve, said Ronald Paszek, superintendent of the cemetery near Our Lady of Victory Basilica run by Buffalo’s Catholic Diocese.

The weather nightmare was “very stressful” for local families who wanted to give their loved ones a dignified burial in the cemetery of their choice, said Paszek, who is still assessing the damage to the South Park Avenue cemetery.

“Most people handled it pretty well. Some families were upset with the delays, but once they came out and saw what they were dealing with, they understood,” Paszek said.

Lackawanna was one of the communities hit hardest by the storm, which blew in Nov. 18. Paszek said he has heard that other cemeteries south and east of Buffalo also suffered severe storm damage.

“I’ve been working at Holy Cross for 44 years,” said the 61-year-old Paszek. “I was here for the Blizzard of 1977, the October Surprise Storm and all the others. I’ve seen them all. ... and in terms of snow piled up in the sections where the graves are, this was the worst I’ve dealt with.”

Problems were compounded by the fact that many of the cemetery’s hundreds of trees still had leaves on them when the storm hit. Weighed down by the snow, some trees and branches crashed down to the ground.

The heavy concentration of snowfall in Lackawanna made many roads impassable for several days, and Paszek and other Holy Cross workers were unable to get to the cemetery. If they had been able to get into work, they would not have been able to do much, because all of the cemetery’s roads had at least 5 feet of snow on them.

Finally, on Nov. 21, Paszek was able to get some heavy snow-removal equipment to the cemetery, but the task of clearing the graveyard’s roads was extremely difficult.

“We have metal stakes 5 and 6 feet high, marking where the roads are, but you couldn’t see them. They were covered up by snow,” said Paszek. “I had to ride next to the operator of a front-end loader and do my best to tell him where the roads were.”

Despite some bad flooding in sections of the cemetery, Paszek and his crew were able to resume burials on Monday.

Paszek, who began his career as a teenager cutting grass at Holy Cross and became superintendent in 1976, said there are usually 10 to 20 people buried each week at Holy Cross.

Running a cemetery is “like being mayor of a city where everyone is dead.”

“You have water problems, sewer problems, road problems, maintenance problems, and weather problems like this,” he said.

email: dherbeck@buffnews.com