More than 30 dead in Western New York winter storm; highways reopen

The death toll from the harsh winter storm in western New York continued to climb, with the Buffalo mayor’s office reporting eight more deaths Tuesday morning.

A total of more than 30 people were reported dead in Erie and Niagara counties in what was the region’s worst snowstorm in recent memory.

“They’ve been found in a variety of ways,” said Mike DeGeorge, a spokesman for the Buffalo mayor’s office. “They’ve been found in stranded vehicles, on sidewalks, around street corners, some in the snow. Some were found in piles. Some were found because some hadn’t had power since the storm started.”

Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramaria said at a news conference Tuesday that the city could expect to find more bodies if the snow is shoveled and starts to melt.

Buffalo officials also said they have responded to numerous complaints of looting.

“We’ve made some arrests and we’re going to be very aggressive about robbery crimes in these snowstorm conditions,” Mayor Byron W. Brown said. “Our goal is to find as many people involved in this crime as possible.”

The mayor said the Buffalo Police Department has established an “anti-looting detail” to follow up on reports of thefts throughout the weekend.

The police chief said the city was also dealing with about 1,000 emergency calls that went unanswered — many of which were likely duplicates and from stranded motorists.

Meanwhile, angry officials in Erie County, which includes Buffalo, pleaded with residents of the city Tuesday morning to stay off the road while crews continued to clear the road.

“I’m begging,” said Mark Poloncarz, the county executive. “stay at home!”

Later, Tuesday afternoon. Governor Kathy Hochul announced the reopening of major highways in the region, including the New York State Thruway, Interstates 290 and 990, Routes 400 and 219, and the border crossing with Canada.

He said a hundred military police officers from the National Guard, as well as additional troops from the New York State Police, were sent to the city to help manage traffic as residents flouted a travel ban that had been in place for several days.

The city has seen light snow over the past two days, as the snowstorm that ravaged the region over the weekend has eased. DeGeorge said.

“When I looked out the window, it was clear and there was no snow,” he said Tuesday morning.

Cleanup is “in progress”, sir. Crews are clearing major roads as well as minor and residential roads, DeGeorge said. Crews are also working to remove abandoned vehicles from the road.

Still, another 3 to 5 inches of snow is expected in the region Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service. Officials warned that warmer temperatures expected later in the week could lead to flooding.

About 4,000 people in Buffalo are still without power, sir. DeGeorge said. He added that as many as 20,000 households were without power across the city over the weekend.

Buffalo Niagara International Airport and all county offices in Erie County remained closed Tuesday.

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