As the thaw begins, questions are asked about authorities’ response to deadly US storm

US

Almost a week since a ferocious storm choked parts of western New York, killing scores and paralysing normal life, Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city, is starting to churn again.

Planes on the runway at Niagara airport are being de-iced and the departure hall is brimming.

The roads are busy, too, after a travel ban lasting six days finally came to an end, freeing people to move around again.

But even as temperatures rise and conditions thaw, emotions are raw.

The number confirmed to have died in this ferocious blizzard now stands at 40 in western New York state alone.

At least a dozen of those who perished were found outside, several freezing to death in cars and other deaths being attributed to delays by emergency services.

Many families are still searching for their loved ones and the number of those killed is almost certain to rise.

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Questions are also raging about whether the response of authorities and the emergency services cost lives, particularly in the poorest part of the city.

An aerial view of buildings during a blizzard in Buffalo, New York, U.S. December 26, 2022, in this screengrab obtained from a social media video. Mostofa Ahsan/via REUTERS  THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
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Buffalo from above. Pic: Mostofa Ahsan
People work to dig out a car during a winter storm that hit the Buffalo region, in Amherst, New York, U.S., December 26, 2022. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

‘I feel like nobody cares’

In the Lovejoy district of Buffalo, where many live pay cheque to pay cheque, people froze to death on the streets and in their homes.

Chris Walker was trapped inside her single-storey home for several days, with snow packed so tightly by the wind she couldn’t open her front door.

“It’s been a living hell,” she said. “An absolute living hell.

“I feel like nobody cares.

“My boyfriend can’t walk and we’ve been calling for help for days – nobody was coming, even for emergencies.

“The man across the road dug us out and if it wasn’t for him and his little plough we’d still be stuck inside.

“There’s a lady over the road and she was hanging out of her front door, crying for someone to help her.”

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Christian Parker of Buffalo, N.Y., shovels out his car in the Elmwood Village neighborhood of Buffalo, N.Y. Monday, Dec. 26, 2022, after a massive snow storm blanketed the city. Along with drifts and travel bans, many streets were impassible due to abandoned vehicles. (AP Photo/Craig Ruttle)
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Pic: AP

‘I feel abandoned’

Two streets away from Ms Walker’s home, a woman died when her oxygen tank ran out because the electricity supply failed and 911 operators told her there was nothing they could do to help in the blizzard.

“I feel abandoned,” Ms Walker said.

“They don’t care. Carbon monoxide alarms were going off and they didn’t care.”

Mark Poloncarz, the county executive of Erie County, the worst-hit area of western New York, said there are a number of bodies waiting to be identified.

Hoak's restaurant is covered in ice from the spray of Lake Erie waves during a winter storm that hit the Buffalo region in Hamburg, New York, U.S. December 24, 2022. Kevin Hoak/ via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
Pic: Kevin Hoak via REUTER
Image:
Pic: Kevin Hoak via Reuters

‘The worst news possible’

Mr Poloncarz has accused Buffalo mayor Byron Brown of being too slow to clear snow and reopen the city.

He said: “There are families in this community who still have not been able to identify where a loved one is.

“Eventually those family members are going to find out the worst news possible.”

But Mr Poloncarz has been criticised too, for not instigating a travel ban sooner, before the blizzard hit last week, with many people given just 40 minutes to make it home before conditions worsened.

As post-mortem examinations take place on the storm’s many victims, so too does the post-mortem on the authorities’ handling of this crisis.

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