A brutal winter storm has knocked out power to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses across the United States and left at least 18 people dead from exposure and car crashes on icy roads.
The “bomb cyclone” storm, one of the most powerful in years, forced the cancellation of more than 3,000 US flights on Saturday, leaving thousands of travelers making last-minute dashes for Christmas.
The storm, now in its third straight day, was almost unprecedented in its scope, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. The freezing temperatures brought the coldest Christmas Eve on record to some parts of the country, including in Washington, DC.
Power systems across the U.S. were strained by rising demand for heat and storm-related damage to transmission lines.
According to the tracking site Poweroutage.us, at least 300,000 homes and businesses were without power Saturday evening, a sharp drop from 1.8 million customers who were without power earlier in the day.
But many electric companies continued to ask people to conserve energy by not running large appliances and turning off unnecessary lights.
Across the country, officials attributed at least 18 deaths to the effects of the storm, including two who died in their homes outside the city of Buffalo in New York state when emergency crews could not reach them amid the conditions snow storms.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said a third person also died in Buffalo and that the blizzard may be “the worst storm in our community’s history.”
It was taking more than three hours for ambulances to make one trip to the hospital in areas where a vehicle could drive through the snow, he said, adding that “hundreds of people were still stuck in their vehicles “.
He added that the National Guard was being sent “right into the city of Buffalo for these life-threatening rescues.”
Current view of Werhle Dr. from one of our Concord trucks that are out helping our Harlem District. Please wait, because driving is still prohibited throughout the county! Thread vehicles make these terrible conditions even more difficult for our teams! pic.twitter.com/4nGtvKp35p
— Erie County DPW (@ErieCountyDPW) December 24, 2022
Meanwhile New York Governor Kathy Hochul said nearly every fire truck in Buffalo was stuck because of the snow. “No matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they can’t get through the conditions as we speak,” she said.
Other storm-related deaths include four people killed in the state of Ohio on Friday during a pileup involving about 50 vehicles. In Missouri, a driver was killed Thursday after sliding into a lake, and in Kansas, three others died Wednesday in separate accidents on icy roads.
A utility worker in Ohio was killed Friday while trying to restore power, and a woman in Vermont died in hospital the same day after a tree snapped in high winds and fell on her. In Colorado, police found the dead body of what appeared to be a homeless person as subzero temperatures and snow fell on the region. In Michigan, a snowplow driver found an 82-year-old woman curled up in the snow outside her assisted living community. She was later pronounced dead.
Three deaths were also reported in Kentucky, where Governor Andy Beshear warned residents Saturday, “Stay home, stay safe, stay alive.”
“I know it’s very difficult because it’s Christmas Eve. But we have many accidents,” he said in an online briefing. “It’s simply not safe.”
Along Interstate 71 in Kentucky, Terry Henderson and her husband, Rick, told The Associated Press news agency that they were stuck in a huge traffic jam due to several accidents for 34 hours. The truckers waited in a rig equipped with a diesel heater, toilet and refrigerator but still regretted trying to drive from Alabama to their home near Akron, Ohio, for Christmas.
“I wish we should have stayed,” said Terry Henderson, after they moved again on Saturday. “We should sit.”
Bad weather forced the cancellation of about 3,411 flights within, into or out of the US on Saturday, according to the tracking site FlightAware. While in Mexico, refugees and migrants have been camping near the US border in unusually cold temperatures as they await a decision from the US Supreme Court on pandemic-era restrictions that prevent many from seeking asylum.
The National Weather Service said its map of existing or upcoming meteorological hazards shows “one of the largest areas of winter weather warnings and advisories ever.”
In stricken Buffalo, Latricia Stroud said she and her two daughters, 1 and 12, have been stranded without heat or power in their home since Friday evening, with the snow too deep to leave.
“I have to go over a snow bank to get out,” Stroud told AP. “There’s a warming center, I just need a ride to get there.”