“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”
Freezing conditions and day-old power outages had Buffalonians scrambling to get to anywhere that had heat amid what Hochul called the longest sustained blizzard conditions ever in the city. But with streets under a thick blanket of white, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after almost 29 hours without electricity.
“There’s one warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive, obviously, because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbit.”
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running, buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4am on Saturday, their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, following his footprints through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” Ilunga recalled thinking. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were steadily being restored across the US. According to poweroutage.us, less than 200,000 customers were without power Sunday at 3pm EDT (7am AEDT on Monday) – down from a peak of 1.7 million.
Concerns about rolling blackouts across eastern states subsided on Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator had called for its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid the freeze on Saturday.
In North Carolina, less than 6500 customers had no power – down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, power has been restored to tens of thousands with just under 83,000 people, mostly in Maine, still without it. In New York, about 34,000 households were still without power on Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guard troops battled high winds and struggled with getting stuck in the snow.
Storm-related deaths were reported in recent days all over the country: seven in Erie County, New York; 10 in Ohio, including an electrocuted utility worker and those killed in multiple car crashes; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling branch; an apparently homeless man found amid Colorado’s subzero temperatures; a woman who fell through Wisconsin river ice.
In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials on Christmas Day announced that residents must now boil their drinking water due to water lines bursting in the frigid temperatures. In Tampa, Florida, the thermometer plunged below freezing for the first time in almost five years, according to the National Weather Service — a drop conducive to cold-blooded iguanas falling out of trees.
In Buffalo, William Kless was up at 3am on Sunday. He called his three children at their mother’s house to wish them Merry Christmas and then headed off on his snowmobile for a second day spent shuttling people from stuck cars and frigid homes to a church operating as a warming shelter.
Through heavy, wind-driven snow, he brought about 15 people to the church in Buffalo on Saturday, he said, including a family of five transported one-by-one. He also got a man in need of dialysis, who had spent 17 hours stranded in his car, back home, where he could receive treatment.
“I just felt like I had to,” Kless said
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