Western New Yorkers have once again been put to the test during bad weather – this time blizzard conditions that wreaked havoc on roadways and imperiled anyone daring to venture out into the elements.
As the blizzard conditions intensified Tuesday afternoon, whiteout conditions on the Thruway near the Depew exit contributed to a nearly mile-long pileup involving between 15 and 25 vehicles, with many more stranded on the closed highway. One motorist died, others were injured.
Despite the terrible conditions, Western New Yorkers sprang into action, as usual. Volunteer firefighters from at least a dozen companies in Lancaster, Cheektowaga, Amherst and Clarence helped free motorists from crumpled vehicles and tended to the injured.
Bowmansville Chief Thomas Trzepacz led the first fire department on the scene. He described how the fire-rescue teams battled “zero visibility conditions” for three hours. They walked half a mile in heavy gear carrying their equipment to reach the worst of the wreck.
Those first responders who selflessly answer calls for help, whether in appalling conditions or not, deserve high praise. Other times it is ordinary people going about their daily routine who step forward to save a life.
Such was the case for Duaine and Michelle Miller of Williamsville, Buffalo News carriers for the last five years. As the couple made their rounds in the dark about 6:45 a.m. Monday, they saw a man face down in the snow. It turned out to be one of their customers, James Forman, 80. He had been there for possibly one to two hours before the Millers arrived and summoned help.
Forman’s relatives were grateful to the couple for doing what Western New Yorkers have learned to do: look out for one another.
Those helping hands will be especially valuable over the next few days, when temperatures are expected to drop even lower. Check on neighbors, particularly the elderly, living alone to make sure they have heat and food. Be vigilant for people outdoors who may need help but are reluctant to ask.
The air may be frigid, but we can show others that our hearts are warm.