An icy monster storm in the USA claims at least 28 lives

Millions of people huddled against a freezing Sunday to weather the winter storm, which has killed at least 28 people in the United States and is expected to claim more after trapping some residents in homes covered in snowdrifts and cutting power to ten from thousands of homes and businesses.

The extent of the storm was nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some type of winter weather alert or warning, and temperatures dropped drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachian Mountains, the National Weather Service said.

Traveler weather woes are likely to continue, with hundreds of flight cancellations already and more expected after a bomb cyclone — when atmospheric pressure drops very rapidly in a powerful storm — develops near the Great Lakes and snowstorms, including severe ones winds and snow, whirls up . As of around 2 p.m. Sunday, 1,707 domestic and international flights were canceled, according to tracking site FlightAware.

The storm unleashed its full fury on Buffalo, with gale force winds and snow causing whiteout conditions and crippling emergency response. New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded on Saturday. Officials said the airport will be closed until Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service said the total snowfall at Buffalo Niagara International Airport was 43 inches (109 centimeters) as of 7 a.m. Sunday.

Daylight revealed cars nearly covered by 6ft snowdrifts and thousands of homes, some adorned with unlit holiday displays, that were dark for lack of power. As snow swirled across untouched and impassable roads, forecasters warned an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas through early Monday morning in 40-mph wind gusts.

Two people died at their homes in suburban Cheektowaga, New York, on Friday when emergency workers could not reach them in time to treat their illnesses, and another died in Buffalo. Four more deaths were confirmed overnight, bringing the Erie County total to seven. County Executive Mark Poloncarz warned there could be more deaths.

“Some were found in cars, others on the road in snowdrifts,” Poloncarz said. “We know that there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”

Freezing conditions and days of power outages pushed Buffalo residents to a hot spot despite what Hochul said was the city’s longest-lasting snowstorm condition on record. But with roads under a thick white blanket, that wasn’t an option for the likes of Jeremy Manahan, who charged his phone in his parked car after nearly 29 hours without power.

“There is a warming shelter, but that would be too far for me to get there. I obviously can’t drive because I’m stuck,” Manahan said. “And you can’t be outside more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite.”

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

At 4 a.m. Saturday, with her fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made the desperate decision to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched her Pomeranian puppy and followed his footprints through drifts.

“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” Ilunga recalled. He cried as the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I’ll never forget in my life.”

The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But warmth and light have been steadily restored in the US. Fewer than 200,000 customers were without power as of 3 p.m. EDT Sunday, according to poweroutage.us — down from a peak of 1.7 million.

Concerns about rolling power outages in the eastern states eased on Sunday after PJM Interconnection said its utilities could meet the day’s peak power demands. The mid-Atlantic network operator had asked its 65 million consumers to save energy on a frosty Saturday.

In North Carolina, fewer than 6,500 customers were without power — down from a peak of 485,000. Across New England, power has been restored to tens of thousands involving nearly 83,000 people, mostly in Maine, still without them. About 34,000 homes remained without power in New York as of Sunday, including 26,000 in Erie County, where utility crews and hundreds of National Guardsmen battled high winds and struggled to get stuck in snow.

Storm-related deaths have been reported across the country in recent days: seven in Erie County, New York; 10 in Ohio, including a utility worker electrocuted and people killed in multiple auto accidents; six motorists killed in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman struck by a falling tree branch; an apparently homeless man found in sub-zero temperatures in Colorado; a woman falling through the ice of the Wisconsin River.

In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day that residents must now boil their drinking water as water mains burst in the freezing temperatures, while in Tampa, Fla., the thermometer fell below freezing for the first time in almost five years National Weather Service – a drop beneficial to cold-blooded iguanas falling from trees.

In Buffalo, William Kless was up at 3 a.m. Sunday. He called his three children at their mother’s house to wish them a Merry Christmas, then set off on his snowmobile to spend a second day getting people out of stuck cars and cold houses to a church, which served as a warm shelter.

Through heavy, wind-blown snow, he brought about 15 people to the church in Buffalo on Saturday, he said, including a family of five who were transported individually. He also brought home a man on dialysis, who was stranded in his car for 17 hours, where he could be treated.

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

Associated Press reporter Mike Schneider in Orlando, Fla.; Stefanie Dazio in Los Angeles; Jonathan Mattise of Charleston, West Virginia; Ron Todt in Philadelphia; John Raby of Charleston, West Virginia; Marc Levy of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Marc Levy of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Jeff Martin of Atlanta; and Wilson Ring of Stowe, Vermont, contributed to this report.

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