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(BUFFALO, N.Y.) — Residents of western New York are going from shoveling snow to filling sandbags as a historic blizzard that killed at least 39 people in metropolitan Buffalo gives way to a big meltdown with temperatures forecast to soar.
A record 51 inches of snow over the Christmas weekend paralyzed New York’s second largest city, which is now facing fears of flooding as the mercury is expected to climb into the 50s on Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
The warm-up has already started, with Buffalo hitting a relatively balmy 40 degrees Thursday morning.
With mountains of snow piled up in Buffalo and surrounding communities in Erie County, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has made additional resources available from the state’s stockpile, including 775,000 sandbags and 312 generators to help communities cope with the radically changing weather.
“As we turn the corner on this historic winter storm, New York State is continuing to stay prepared ahead of potentially dangerous flooding conditions,” Hochul said in a statement Wednesday. “Our state agency personnel and local emergency responders have been coordinating throughout the storm, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect Western New Yorkers and help our communities recover.”
The weekend blizzards sent Buffalo’s seasonal snow total to over 100 inches, the most the city has ever gotten this early in the season, and it’s already surpassed its average annual snowfall mark of 89 inches.
The blizzard came after a monster lake-effect storm in November dumped 77 inches of snow on the area and prompted a state of emergency Erie County.
Hochul has called the Christmas weekend storm the “blizzard of the century” and the deadliest in the region since the Blizzard of 1977. President Joe Biden approved a federal emergency declaration in New York Monday evening.
Thirty-seven of the 40 New York deaths are in Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo, Mark Poloncarz, the executive of Erie County, said Thursday. One storm-related death was reported in neighboring Niagara County, officials said.
Poloncarz said 31 of the deaths in Erie County occurred in the city of Buffalo. Seven of the deaths occurred in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga, he said.
Among the storm-related causes of death confirmed by the Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office were three people who suffered heart attacks while shoveling or blowing snow; 17 people succumbed to the elements outside, three died due to an EMS delay and nine deaths were the result of people having no heat in their homes, Poloncarz said.
A driving ban that had been imposed in Buffalo during the snowstorm was lifted just after midnight Thursday as snow-removal crews worked to clear city streets.
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