More than two dozen people have been killed and thousands left without power after a blizzard hit western New York state over the Christmas period, in what local officials described as the area’s deadliest snowstorm in decades.
States across the US have been struck by the storm, with the hardest-hit area being New York’s Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city.
Speaking on Monday, New York governor Kathy Hochul, who was born in Buffalo, said visiting the area was like “going to a war zone”.
The blizzard, which meteorologists have described as a “bomb cyclone”, denoting a storm that intensifies rapidly, has caused temperatures across the US to plummet to as low as minus 40C over the Christmas period.
The US national weather service had warned last week that more than 200mn people, or roughly 60 per cent of the US population, were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory.
US president Joe Biden late on Monday declared an emergency in New York, authorising the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to co-ordinate relief efforts.
Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference on Monday that the death count had risen overnight from 13 to 25 people. The overall number of fatalities from the storm in western New York was at least 27, with 48 deaths nationwide, the Associated Press reported.
Poloncarz said a number of the deaths were cardiac events related to snow shovelling and snow blowing, adding that this storm was now potentially more deadly than New York’s blizzard of 1977.
“The Blizzard of ’77 lasted longer, three days of terrible conditions. This was two days of terrible conditions, but the ferocity of the storm was worse than the Blizzard of ’77 and now it appears we’ve had more deaths countywide,” said Poloncarz.
He added that as of Tuesday, more than 13,000 people have had their electricity restored but over 12,000 were still without power.
Erie County undersheriff William Cooley described the blizzard as “a generational storm”.
In response to reports of looting in the area, Cooley said it was “unfortunate that there’s some opportunistic criminals in our society”, adding that Buffalo’s police department had made an arrest.