USA: Millions of people take shelter from a huge storm

BUFFALO, N.Y. (HPD) — Millions of people across the United States sheltered overnight amid freezing cold caused by a winter storm that has killed at least 24 people, left many locked in their houses encased in snow and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses.

The magnitude of the storm is almost unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the border with Mexico. About 60% of the nation’s population was under some type of weather advisory and temperatures were well below normal from the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.

Some 1,346 domestic and international flights were cancelled, according to the FlightAware website.

Experts pointed out that explosive cyclogenesis, in which atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a strong storm, had occurred near the Great Lakes, where it caused blizzards with snow and gales.

The storm unleashed its full fury in Buffalo, where hurricane-force winds and heavy snow crippled emergency services. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said nearly all of the city’s fire trucks were snowbound, and authorities said the airport would remain closed Monday.

The National Weather Service said snowpack at Buffalo-Niagara Airport totaled 43 inches (109 centimeters) as of 7 am Sunday.

Two people died at their homes in Cheektowaga, New York state, because medical personnel failed to arrive in time to treat their health conditions, and another person died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the total in Erie County to seven. County Administrator Mark Poloncarz warned that the death toll could rise.

“Some people were found in their vehicles, some were found in snowbanks on the street,” Poloncarz said. “We know that there are people who have been stranded in their vehicles for more than two days.”

Heavy snow, cold weather and power outages the day before prompted some Buffalo residents to leave their homes Saturday for anywhere with heat. But with city streets covered in a thick layer of white, that wasn’t an option for the likes of Jeremy Manahan, charging his cell phone battery in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.

“There is a shelter to keep warm, but it is too far for me to get there. Obviously I can’t drive, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be out for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite symptoms.”

Ditjak Ilunga, from Gaithersburg, Maryland, was traveling with his daughters to visit relatives for Christmas in Hamilton, Ontario, when their truck got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running in the wind-swept, snow-covered vehicle.

At 4 in the morning on Saturday and with almost no fuel left, Ilunga made the desperate decision to brave the harsh storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried Destiny, 6, on her back while Cindy, 16, hugged her Pomeranian puppy and stepped in her footprints into the gusts of wind.

“If I stay in this car, I’m going to die here with my daughters,” she recalled thinking, saying she thought they should try. She cried as the family walked through the shelter doors. “It is something that I will never forget in my life.”

The storm left towns without power from Maine to Seattle. But gradually electricity and heat are being restored in the United States. According to poweroutage.us, fewer than 300,000 homes were without power as of 8 am EDT Sunday, a significant drop from the peak of 1.7 million. In North Carolina, fewer than 6,600 homes were without power, compared with a peak of 485,000. Power companies warned of possible widespread blackouts.

Across the six states in the New England region, some 121,300 grid customers remained without power as of Sunday, with Maine hardest hit.

Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country in recent days: seven in New York’s Erie County; 10 in various Ohio highway accidents, including one involving about 50 vehicles, a man whose truck crashed into a snow truck, and an electrical worker who was electrocuted to death; four drivers in various traffic accidents in Missouri and Kansas; a woman in Vermont who was hit by a tree branch; an apparently homeless man found in freezing Colorado temperatures; a woman who fell through the ice on a river in Wisconsin.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Contributing to this story were correspondents Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Corey Williams in Southfield, Mich.; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Maysoon Khan in Albany, New York; Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas.

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