BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — In an update early Monday afternoon, local officials acknowledged the assistance from other cities and counties in the state and stressed the importance of keeping roads clear so plows and other emergency personnel can get through.
Gov. Kathy Hochul said Routes 5, 190, 219 and 400 remain closed, but stated the importance of keeping Rt. 33 open. The Thruway remains closed from Pennsylvania to Rochester because of “scores and scores” of vehicles abandoned.
“It was very important to keep Rt. 33 open because that is a gateway to one of our major hospitals — ECMC,” she said.
Hochul also mentioned that State Fire teams rescued ECMC’s head of surgery and his elderly mother, who were trapped in a car. Snow plows and rescue vehicles also became stuck in snow and had to be rescued, with around 550 rescues being made in total over the weekend.
Hochul, who once again referred to the county’s efforts against the storm as “a war,” also said it is urgent that everyone stay at home for the next day, calling the clean-up and dig-out efforts an “all-hands-on-deck” operation.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz later added that “so many agencies” were sending people and resources, including Nassau, Monroe, and Albany counties, as well as the City of Rochester. He thanked Buffalo Police, Fire, and Public Works for their efforts in “the sad task they’ve had to do of retrieving bodies.”
“This was not a lack of apparatus, this was not a lack of personnel,” he said. “We were at the mercy of Mother Nature, it’s as simple as that. When we have our multi-ton snowplows and trucks and hi-lifts… it doesn’t matter if you had a thousand more pieces of equipment and 10,000 personnel, there’s still nothing you could’ve done in that period.
The County Executive reiterated his statement from earlier in the morning that the County Medical Examiner’s office confirmed 25 deaths in Erie County, but said some deaths reported by City of Buffalo recovery efforts may not have been confirmed by the Medical Examiner yet.
“The Buffalo Police Department has retrieved 18 of these souls,” Mayor Brown said. “Our police officers are human; it is painful to find members of our community that are deceased.”
Poloncarz also added that current driving bans will probably stay in effect through the daylight hours of Tuesday morning. He said that people on the roads could be hindering life-saving response and that the driving ban isn’t to inconvenience the people of Erie County.
“If somebody’s having a heart attack or major issue and (ambulances) can’t get down the road because now someone’s stuck again, you could cost somebody’s life,” he said. “So again, stay home.”
Mayor Brown said he and his family, along with over 20,000 other homes in the City of Buffalo, lost power, but said National Grid and other partners have been able to get that number below 10,000. He thanked those in the community who heeded the travel ban before passing off the microphone.
Commissioner of NYS Division of Homeland Security Jackie Bray said nearly 23,000 houses lost power Sunday night across Erie County, a number that is now down to around 12,500. She also said substations within the county have been reenergized.
Commissioner Bray also said the nature of this storm, coming back-to-back with a storm in November, is “historic.” She said that there is an increase in extreme weather and that the department is trying to work closer with meteorologists for better information on preparing for a storm.
Bray, like the other public officials, stressed the importance of staying off roads to prevent more stranded vehicles, to help emergency services get where they need to go. She said many city firehouses have food and water for those who need it.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said the BPD has become aware of reports of looting and that a few arrests have been made, with officers responding to several reports. He said the BPD has helped board up one store so far.
“We’ve been able to, throughout the storm, transition our patrol officers to get back more concentrated on their patrol efforts, while we have our search & rescue and recovery teams that are going out and doing the very difficult work of recovering bodies and also doing ‘check-the-welfare’ calls,” Commissioner Gramaglia said.
Mayor Brown also commented on looters, saying that from what he’s seen on social media, the looters haven’t been taking food and medicine, but rather retail items and things they want.
“People who are out looting when people are losing their lives in this harsh winter storm is just absolutely reprehensible,” he said. “I don’t know how these people can even live with themselves, how they can look at themselves in the mirror. They are the lowest of the low.”
Hochul reminded businesses that price gouging is illegal, calling it “a disgusting practice” and saying violators will be met with the law.
“We’ll be going after them,” she said.
Hochul has also asked for a Declaration of Emergency in WNY from the White House to help reimburse local governments for their expenses.
The full update can be viewed above.