Death toll rises in Buffalo as frigid cold freezes eastern US on Christmas Day

Twenty-eight people have died so far in weather-related incidents, according to an NBC News tally. CNN reported 26 deaths Sunday morning.

 A snow plow works along Hillside Drive during a break in the snow storm hitting the Buffalo area in Orchard Park, New York, US November 19, 2022. (photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)
A snow plow works along Hillside Drive during a break in the snow storm hitting the Buffalo area in Orchard Park, New York, US November 19, 2022.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CARLOS OSORIO)

A deadly blizzard pummeled Buffalo, New York, on Christmas Day, trapping people in their cars, causing power outages and raising the death toll from a severe winter storm system that swept the United States.

Twenty-eight people have died so far in weather-related incidents, according to an NBC News tally. CNN reported 26 deaths Sunday morning.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll from the storm had risen from three to seven overnight in the Buffalo region in far western New York, where snow continued to fall on Sunday, bringing the total accumulation to nearly four feet (1.2 m).

Some of the four reported dead on Sunday morning were found in cars and some in snow banks, Poloncarz said, adding that the death count from the storm might still rise.

"This is not the Christmas any of us hoped for nor expected, but try to have as merry a Christmas as possible today," Poloncarz said on Twitter on Sunday. "My deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.

A view of snow following a blizzard in Sturgis, South Dakota, U.S. December 16, 2022, in this picture obtained from social media. (credit: LONETREE RANCH VIA REUTERS)A view of snow following a blizzard in Sturgis, South Dakota, U.S. December 16, 2022, in this picture obtained from social media. (credit: LONETREE RANCH VIA REUTERS)

New York Governor Kathy Hochul told reporters that she had been in touch with the White House and that the Biden administration would support the state's request for a federal disaster declaration.

"This will go down in history as Buffalo's most devastating storm. This one is for the ages and we're still in the middle of it," Hochul said.

A powerful winter storm that caused frigid temperatures from the Northern Great Plains to the US-Mexico border was moving east on Sunday, after knocking out power to millions late last week and causing flight cancellations during the busy holiday travel period.

More than 200,000 homes and businesses were without power on the US East Coast, Texas, and Washington state on Sunday, a sharp drop from the 1.8 million that were powerless as of early Saturday, according to PowerOutage.us. In Buffalo, 16% of residents had no electricity on Sunday, officials said.

Christmas morning temperatures were still well below average across the central and eastern US, and below freezing even as far south as the Gulf Coast, National Weather Service (NWS) meteorologist Rich Otto said.

In South Florida, iguanas were falling from trees, paralyzed because of a sharp temperature drop to 45 degrees Fahrenheit, according to resident reports and images posted to Twitter.

 

Deadly car travel

In Erie County, about 500 motorists were stranded in their vehicles on Friday night into Saturday morning, with the National Guard called in to help with rescues, Poloncarz said.

There was still a county-wide driving ban in effect on Sunday.

The Buffalo airport had recorded 43 inches (109 cm) of snow as of 7 a.m ET (1200 GMT)Sunday, NWS meteorologist Rich Otto said.

"Another one to two feet in general before Monday morning in the Buffalo area is expected," Otto said. "I guess you can say in some ways, the worst of it is over but there's still some pretty significant snowfall that's ongoing around the Buffalo region today."

Officials in Kentucky confirmed there were at least three storm-related deaths in that state, while at least two motorists were killed and numerous others injured in a 50-vehicle pileup that shut down the Ohio Turnpike in both directions during a blizzard near Toledo on Friday.