Two people died in separate incidents at their homes when first responders could not get to them. There is no emergency service for much of the area, said Mark C. Poloncarz, county executive for Erie County, which includes Buffalo. A physician was coaching over the phone a woman who was delivering her sister’s baby at home. First responders from a hospital could not get to an infant who needed help a few blocks away. People were stranded for the night in restaurants as well as their homes, he said.
“This was a very, very bad night in our community,” Poloncarz said. “Thankfully, the sun is up.”
“This may turn out to be the worst storm in our community’s history, surpassing the famed blizzard of ’77 for its ferocity,” he added.
He said emergency response is not available in about two-thirds of the blizzard-affected area. Emergency vehicles themselves were stuck in the snow. “It’s not something we’re proud of,” Poloncarz said. More than 27.8 inches of snow fell at the airport in Buffalo.
He warned people not to call 911 or an emergency storm number unless they had life-threatening crises. Abandoned vehicles were causing additional problems, and there were concerns that snow-clogged exhaust vents were causing carbon monoxide or natural gas exhaust to back up into homes.
Why this blizzard could be the worst in Buffalo’s history
Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) has ordered the National Guard to respond, and units were on their way to the worst-hit parts of the region. She and another official said numerous rescues were made overnight around the Buffalo area, in some cases with snowplows plucking stranded motorists from their cars and taking them to warming centers.
About 73,000 people were without power in New York state, Hochul said, half in the Buffalo area. The Buffalo airport would be closed through Monday morning, Hochul said, and she warned people who hoped to travel there for Christmas not to attempt to drive either.
Snow was forecast to continue falling in the Erie County area throughout the day and possibly until early Christmas Day, Poloncarz said.
While Buffalo may have been seeing the storm’s worst, few parts of the country were unaffected by the cold, ice, snow and winds that have barreled across the nation in the past two days. Temperatures were below freezing in Houston on Saturday, and below-zero wind chills swept throughout much of the Midwest.
Four people were dead after a 46-car pileup on the Ohio Turnpike on Friday, authorities said.
Power was knocked out for at least 1.5 million on Friday, and temperatures plummeted, sometimes at record-breaking speeds. About 1.1 million were still without power as of noon Eastern on Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us, with hundreds of thousands out in Tennessee and Kentucky.
Duke Energy said that high energy demand from the frigid temperatures led to temporary power outages for nearly 340,000 people in the Carolinas on Christmas Eve. PJM, a power grid operator that operates across 13 states from Illinois to Virginia as well as D.C., is urging consumers to conserve power through Christmas morning.
FedEx said on Saturday that the severe weather is causing disruptions to its hubs in Memphis and Indianapolis and that delays could be expected for deliveries through Monday.
Air travel was snarled with thousands of flights canceled. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter that about 20 percent of the flights on Friday were canceled. Air travel was slowly returning, but he urged patience.
Blizzards throttled the Great Lakes region. Even winter-tested cities such as Chicago and Detroit shut down holiday attractions and urged people to stay inside.
The storm that the National Weather Service described as “once in a generation” began Thursday and is expected to last through Christmas weekend, ultimately carving a 2,000-mile path across much of the country. The danger zone extended from Canada to Mexico and from Washington state to Florida.
In Michigan, a Detroit television station reported that an 82-year-old woman was found dead outside her Bath Township assisted-living facility on Friday morning.
On the Pine Ridge Native American reservation in South Dakota, a tribal leader reported that people were trapped by ice and 30 inches of snow, burning clothes for heat because firewood deliveries could not get through.
The conditions “pose an imminent threat to tribal government operations, to public safety and the health of tribal members who currently do not have access to medical care, such as dialysis, ambulance service for crisis intervention medical care,” Oglala Sioux Tribe President Frank Star Comes Out wrote in an email.
In Kentucky, swirling winds and plummeting temperatures caused a series of traffic crashes that resulted in massive backups as long as 14 miles on U.S. 127. The icy conditions sent dozens of cars careening, and at least one tractor-trailer jackknifed, as slowdowns and road closures spread across the state.
In the wake of the crashes, only one lane was open on Interstate 71 south, where state officials reported that hundreds of travelers were stranded over a six-mile stretch. The state said in a Twitter post that emergency officials were working “to get them off the road and into warmth.”
“I know that was tough for a lot of folks, but we did wellness checks on every single vehicle on I-71 in that backup,” Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said during a news conference Saturday morning. “No tragedies or serious medical injuries. Certainly had to help a lot of people. I know a lot of people were scared. It was a major tractor-trailer jackknife that took a significant amount of time to clear.”
Beshear said that there were 43,000 power outages, and the state asked residents to reduce their electricity usage to minimize the potential for blackouts. The governor issued an executive order lowering the speed limit in certain areas to 45 mph and urged people to stay off the roads unless absolutely necessary.
As temperatures gradually rose, the outlook brightened. State officials said Saturday morning that roads were gradually being cleared, and Emergency Management Director Jeremy Slinker said he was “hoping to turn the corner today.”
In New York, Hochul said that water poured into the streets of Far Rockaway and other bayside sections of Queens, then froze as rains departed and temperatures plunged, creating ice hazards.
She said during a briefing on Saturday that the “real feel” temperature is not above zero anywhere in the state. The storm in western New York “may go down as one of the worst in history,” the governor said, attributing the worsening impact to the effects of climate change.
Nevertheless, New York City airports were open and trains and subways were running, Hochul said.
Emily Wax-Thibodeaux, Jason Samenow, Danielle Paquette and Emmanuel Felton contributed to this report.