BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — A glimmer of sunshine on Christmas Day provided Western New Yorkers with hope that the region is ready to dig itself out from the longest sustained blizzard in history.
Not so fast, was the message from government officials.
“It is not over,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said on Sunday. “I cannot overstate how dangerous conditions are. We need people to stay off the roads. Yes, one more day. I know it’s Christmas. I know how hard it is. You came off of a couple years of being separated in the pandemic. It’s heartbreaking.”
Driving bans remained in place for much of the area, including all of Erie County, where Buffalo’s northern suburbs were hit hardest by a blizzard lasting for more than 30 hours.
“To keep you safe and to all those who have left the security of their homes to keep you safe, we need your cooperation,” Hochul said. “Just hang in there one more day. We will persevere. We will battle this out to the bitter end.”
“The conditions in the Buffalo area remain treacherous and remain dangerous,” said Jackie Bray, the state’s homeland security and emergency services commissioner. “It is bitterly cold. And while the winds have died down at this point, it is still far too cold to be outside. The most important thing is to stay inside.”
Even those who lost power during the blizzard — more than 27,000 households in Erie County, according to Hochul — should remain indoors until crews can clear the roads for safe travel. Hochul said 94.5% of Erie County residents have had power restored and 87% of City of Buffalo residents. However, there are still over 15,000 residents without power, which Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Sunday that may not be restored until Tuesday.
“If you are without power, it is safer inside than outside,” Bray said. “Wear loose fitting clothing, lots of layers. Cover every part of you, including your cheeks, your nose, your mouth. If you have multiple people in your household, stay in one room and huddle together to maintain warmth.”
“It is not a resource challenge, it is a storm challenge,” said Hochul, explaining how whiteout conditions on Saturday prevented workers from restoring power. “When you arrive and realize there is structural damage, it’s not just turning on a switch, or putting up one wire. And with the high winds, you can’t get the lift trucks up there to restore the high lines. That’s been the complication with utilities.”
Hochul termed the blizzard response as “a war with Mother Nature,” and drew comparisons to the Siege of Bastogne that occurred at Christmastime during World War II in 1944.
Meanwhile, the area will be getting a national disaster declaration from President Biden soon, Hochul said. An additional 200 members of the National Guard are set to be deployed to Western New York on Monday.
“This will go down in history as the most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long, storied history of battling many storms,” Hochul said. “I’ve lived through most of them. I’m a Buffalonian. And all of us think in historic and epic terms. But this one is for the ages. And we are still in the middle of it. We still have people who need to be rescued. We have people with their power off in our communities. And buildings where pipes are bursting, and flooding is occurring, as is happening in my own home right now.
“It is a devastating experience.”