After tremendous efforts to recover from a deadly winter storm, officials in Buffalo, New York, are bracing for the threat of minor flooding in the days ahead as warming temperatures and rain melt the thick layer of snow.
The weekend’s historic blizzard dumped up to 50 inches of snow on the city and created days of cleanup and recovery efforts, including clearing roads, restoring power and carrying out more than 1,000 pending wellness checks and 911 calls.
But the next few days could bring new frustrations for city and Erie County officials, as temperatures could hit 50 degrees next week, melting piles of snow that could be joined by rain Saturday and Tuesday. Rain and snowmelt combined could result in minimal flooding, according to the National Weather Service.
“It doesn’t look like it’s going to be bad,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said Thursday.
Erie County officials say they are preparing for the threat of flooding by digging drainage ditches so the snowmelt is more gradual. A stock of pumps, pipes and generators is also in place.
The death toll in Erie County has risen to 39, Polocarz said Thursday, though officials expect the number to rise as medical examiners perform autopsies in cases believed to be related deaths. in the blizzard.
Some families still have not found their missing loved ones, he said, as devastating stories continue to emerge of residents found dead in snow banks, trapped in their cars or in their homes. A Buffalo mother went out on Christmas Eve, telling her daughter she would be right back, only to have her body found a few hundred yards from their home.
Some officials have received criticism of how the crisis and subsequent cleanup has been handled, including questions about whether a driving ban, which came into effect at 9:30 a.m. Friday when the storm hit , should have been implemented earlier. Officials said emergency personnel were unable to respond to some calls for help due to heavy storms or roads being blocked by cars.
A contracted EMT from Buffalo told CNN she was stuck in her ambulance for hours on Friday as she tried to respond to a call. “The main reason we were stuck was because there were cars in the way,” Joycelyn Benton said.
Benton said she believes officials could have deployed snowplows and National Guard resources sooner and instituted the travel ban sooner to keep cars off the street. Poloncarz said two-thirds of the equipment sent to help clear snow at the height of the storm was stuck.
Erie County remains under a state of emergency and disabling the declaration “will still take time,” Poloncarz said.
“We’re not in a position where we can lift him at this stage because there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Several states sent snow removal equipment and emergency personnel to Buffalo and western New York to help with recovery efforts, including Ohio, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Among those found dead in Erie County were an expectant father days away from the birth of his child, a 22-year-old who got stuck in her car and a grandmother whose body was moved so it wouldn’t snow.
One victim, Demetrius Robinson, was found in the snow over Christmas, just a day before his 59th birthday, his sister Elizabeth Rodolph told CNN.
Originally from Buffalo, Robinson was a carpenter who loved to cook, his sister said.
“He always invited the neighborhood children who were playing outside to eat what he prepared. He treated everyone like family,” she said.
Robinson’s family initially became concerned when they could not reach him on Friday, but they went for days without knowing where he was or if he was safe. Finally, the family reached the coroner’s office on Wednesday and found that her body had been brought back on Sunday, Rodolph said.
“Such a lovely person has been removed from our lives,” Rodolph said. “He was the friendliest, sweetest, kindest, most cheerful person you’ve ever met.”
Robinson is survived by his daughter and son. His son Marqll Daniels remembers his father as his role model and hero.
“I always looked up to dad for a lot of things. He always talked to me about how to be a good man. He had a really big heart,” Daniels said.