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Monstrous frigid storm in US claims at least 24 lives

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BUFFALO, NY (AP) – Millions of people huddled against deep ice on Sunday morning to weather the icy storm that killed at least 24 people across the United States and is expected to claim more lives after trapping some residents inside homes with huddled mounds. of snow and knocking out power to several hundred thousand homes and businesses.

The storm’s reach is almost unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the US population faced some type of winter weather warning or alert, and temperatures dropped sharply below normal east of the Rocky Mountains into the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.

About 1,346 domestic and international flights were canceled as of early Sunday, according to the FlightAware tracking website.

Meteorologists said a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very quickly in a severe storm — has developed near the Great Lakes, causing blizzard conditions, including high winds and snow.

The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with hurricane-force winds and snow causing blackout conditions, crippling emergency response efforts – New York Governor Kathy Hochul said nearly all of the city’s fire trucks were stranded on Saturday – and closing the airport until Monday, according to officials. The National Weather Service said total snowfall at Buffalo Niagara International Airport was 43 inches (109 centimeters) at 7 am on Sunday.

Daylight Sunday revealed cars nearly covered in 6-foot snowdrifts and thousands of homes, some adorned with unlit festive displays, dark from power outages. With the snow falling on pristine and impassable streets, forecasters have warned that an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow is possible in some areas by early Monday morning amid 40 mph wind gusts.

Two people died at their homes in the New York suburb of Cheektowaga on Friday when emergency crews were unable to reach them in time to treat their medical conditions, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the total to seven in Erie County, where County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there could be more deaths.

“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” Poloncarz said. “We know that there are people who have been trapped in cars for more than 2 days.”

Freezing conditions and the previous day’s power outages had the buffalo struggling to get out of their homes to anywhere that was warm. But with the city’s streets under a thick white blanket, that wasn’t an option for people like Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without electricity.

“There’s a warm-up shelter, but it would be too far for me to get to. I can’t drive obviously because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frozen.”

Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Md., was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ont., for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when his SUV got stuck in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the vehicle’s engine running, buffeted by the wind and almost buried in snow.

Around 4 am on Saturday, with fuel almost running out, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clung to her Pomeranian puppy, stomping in her footprints as they trudged through the hills.

“If I stay in this car, I’m going to die here with my children”, he remembers thinking, but believing that they had to try. He wept as the family walked through the doors of the shelter. “It is something I will never forget in my life.”

The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and lights were constantly restored in the USA. According to poweroutage.us, less than 300,000 customers were without power as of 8 am EDT Sunday – down from a peak of 1.7 million. In North Carolina, less than 6,600 customers were without power – down from a peak of 485,000 or more. Utility officials said the blackouts would continue for the next few days.

Across the six New England states, about 121,300 customers remained without power on Sunday, with Maine still the hardest hit.

Storm-related deaths have been reported in recent days across the country: seven in Erie County, New York; 10 killed in multiple accidents in Ohio, including a pileup involving about 50 vehicles, a man whose sport utility vehicle collided with a snowplow, and an electrocuted electrical worker; four drivers killed in separate accidents in Missouri and Kansas; a Vermont woman hit by a falling branch; a seemingly homeless man found amid subzero Colorado temperatures; a woman who fell through ice on the Wisconsin River.

In Florida, the thermometer dipped below freezing for the first time in nearly five years at Tampa International Airport and hit 43 degrees (6.1 degrees Celsius) in West Palm Beach, according to the National Weather Service. The drop in temperature allowed iguanas to fall out of trees, as cold-blooded reptiles are often immobilized in unusually cold weather.

Along Kentucky’s Interstate 71, Terry Henderson and her husband, Rick, weathered a 34-hour traffic jam on a platform equipped with a diesel heater, toilet and refrigerator after they got stuck trying to drive home from Alabama in Ohio at Christmas.

“We should have stayed,” Terry Henderson said after they moved back in on Saturday.

In Buffalo, William Kless woke up at 3 am on Sunday morning. He called his 8-, 9- and 12-year-olds at their mothers’ house to wish them a Merry Christmas and then took off on his snowmobile for a second day, passing people from stuck cars and freezing houses to a church that doubles as a shelter. of heating.

Through heavy, wind-driven snow, he brought about 15 people to the church in Buffalo on Saturday, he said, including a family of five transported one by one. He also got a man in need of dialysis who spent 17 hours trapped in his car at home where he could receive treatment.

“I just felt like I had to,” Kless said.

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Bleiberg reported from Dallas. Associated Press journalist Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida; Corey Williams in Southfield, Michigan; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; Maysoon Khan in Albany, New York; Hannah Schoenbaum in Raleigh, North Carolina; Wilson Ring in Stowe, Vermont; and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas contributed to this report.

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