Blizzard claims dozens of lives as freeze grips US, Canada



The severity of the storm was notable even for a region well accustomed to harsh winter weather.

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Christina Klaffka, a 39-year-old North Buffalo resident, watched the shingles blow off her neighbour’s home and listened to her windows rattle from “hurricane-like winds.” She lost power along with her whole neighbourhood on Saturday evening, and was still without electricity on Sunday morning.

“My TV kept flickering while I was trying to watch the Buffalo Bills and Chicago Bears game. I lost power shortly after the 3rd quarter,” she said.

John Burns, 58, a retiree in North Buffalo, said he and his family were trapped in their house for 36 hours by the storm and extreme cold that he called “mean and nasty”.

“Nobody was out. Nobody was even walking their dogs,” he said. “Nothing was going on for two days.”

Snowfall totals were hard to gauge, he added, because of fierce winds that reduced accumulation between houses, but piled up in an almost 2-metre drift “in front of my garage.”

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters on Sunday that the Biden administration had agreed to support her request for a federal disaster declaration.

Some 200 National Guard troops were mobilised in western New York, providing relief to police and fire crews, conducting wellness checks and bringing supplies to shelters, Hochul said.

The storm was moving east on Sunday, after knocking out power to as many as 1.5 million customers at the height of outages late last week and forcing thousands of commercial flight cancellations during the busy holiday travel period.

More than 150,000 US homes and businesses were without power on Sunday, down sharply from the 1.8 million without power as of early Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. In Buffalo, 16 per cent of residents had no electricity on Sunday, officials said.

In Canada, electricity was also out to at least 140,000 utility customers, mostly in the provinces of Ontario and Quebec, hard hit by the same weather system that buried western New York in snow.

More than 1700 flights in the United States were cancelled as of midday Sunday, according to flight tracker FlightAware.

Christmas Day temperatures, while beginning to rebound from near-zero (Farenheit) readings that were widespread on Saturday, remained well below average across the central and eastern United States, and below freezing even as far south as the Gulf Coast, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Rich Otto said.

The Buffalo airport had recorded nearly 1.3 metres of snow by Sunday, the Weather Service said. White-out conditions persisted south of Buffalo on Sunday afternoon, with snow falling at the rate of 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) an hour.

In Kentucky, officials confirmed three storm-related deaths since Friday, while at least four people were dead and several injured in auto-related accidents in Ohio, where a 50-vehicle pileup shut down the Ohio Turnpike in both directions during a blizzard on Friday.

Other deaths related to the extreme cold or weather-induced vehicle accidents were reported in Missouri, Tennessee, Kansas and Colorado, according to news reports.

A Christmas Eve bus crash that police said was likely due to icy road conditions near Loon Lake in Canada’s British Columbia killed four people and left dozens hospitalised, authorities confirmed on Sunday.

Reuters

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