BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — City officials said 28 people have been confirmed dead in Buffalo from the blizzard in the City’s 11 a.m. Tuesday press conference. County-wide totals are still being calculated by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s office.
Additionally, Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said BPD has reported to over a dozen non-storm related deaths, as funeral directors are unable to due to driving bans and poor driving conditions.
“This is painstaking, grueling work, and I could not be more proud of the members of this department for digging in and doing what needs to be done,” Gramaglia said. “They’re doing the work, nobody is complaining at all. I get people who are asking to come in and volunteer to do whatever it is that needs to be done.”
Gramaglia said as snow gets moved, he expects the department will find more bodies. He said there are around 1,000 outstanding 911 calls regarding stranded motorists, as well as other calls, though there have been duplicate calls reporting the same stranded drivers.
He noted for the public that crime scene tape on the side mirrors of an abandoned vehicle denotes that it has been checked to ensure it is empty.
Hurubie Meko of the New York Times asked about the volume of emergency calls received by the city, referencing a 22-year-old woman who died in her car after making calls throughout the day.
“We are certainly not blaming individuals who were driving — our goal was to save everyone, to respond to every call — but the act of driving during a blizzard, during zero visibility and whiteout conditions, as you can surmise, made the emergency response much more difficult and much more complicated,” Mayor Brown said. “One of the reasons that we were very early in issuing the driving ban, because we knew with the severity of weather conditions we were going to be getting, that driving was going to be extremely dangerous, that walking was going to be extremely dangerous, and that people who were out would also put emergency-first responders at risk as well.”
Brown continued following a statement by Commissioner Gramaglia.
“Keeping in mind the severity of the storm, days in advance of Friday, myself, Gov. Hochul, County Executive Poloncarz, asked people not to drive in the City of Buffalo and other different areas after Thursday,” Mayor Brown said. “I was very clear in saying to people in Buffalo through a variety of different mediums that Thursday would be the last day that you could drive safely to go grocery shopping, to pick up medications, to do last-minute Christmas shopping, to pick up candles and extra blankets and covering and flashlights and batteries for your home.”
The driving ban in the City of Buffalo did not officially begin until 9:30 a.m. on Friday. No curfew was issued Thursday night and many area businesses did not begin to announce closures until Friday.
“We were prepared in advance for this storm,” Brown continued. “And we put that out to the public multiple times in a variety of different ways.”
Department of Public Works Commissioner Nate Marton said the DPW’s focus is on clearing streets. He said they are beginning to move onto the secondary streets and will continue to haul snow away “one dump truck at a time.” He also encouraged people to stay off the roads in the city so plows can get through.
“We are moving into the residentials in all parts of the city,” Marton said. “This is a long, slow process, as we experienced previously.”
Parking Commissioner Ray Wagner said six companies with over 10 tow trucks are working in collaboration with the DPW to help them get through. He advised people who abandoned their vehicles to contact local the police district where their car was towed. For more information on towed vehicles across Erie County, click here.
According to Mayor Brown, Buffalo DPW is also being assisted by resources coming from Erie County and the State, as well as the Town of Amherst and Cities of Rochester and Syracuse. He said there are over 268 pieces of equipment on Buffalo streets, calling Buffalo “ground zero” for the storm.
Brown also said the City has made special arrangements to do welfare checks on family members that haven’t been heard from, and that first responders and people in special medical emergency situations should be the only ones on the roads.
As for I-190, the City advised that with the driving ban in effect, vehicles will not be able to exit the interstate into Buffalo should the highway reopen. Gramaglia said in that event, he is unsure whether I-190 will be closed between I-90 and I-290, or if police will block the Buffalo exits, but said he would provide updates as he received them.
Gramaglia also addressed looting. He said an anti-looting detail has been launched, with four arrests made between 10 and 11 a.m. by plain clothes detectives.
“This isn’t people stealing food and medicine and diapers,” Gramaglia said. “They are destroying stores, they’re stealing televisions, couches, whatever they can get their hands on. They’re opportunists, they’re taking advantage. And all you’re doing is destroying the resource you have.”
Gramaglia continued, saying people continue to send looting videos via social media and that BPD and DA Flynn’s office are aware of what’s going on and will investigate and jointly prosecute looters.
The full press conference can be viewed above. Erie County officials also hosted a press conference at 11 a.m. on Tuesday. Updates can be viewed at this link.