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At least 50 people have died across the U.S. in 'once-in-a-generation storm'

More than half the deaths occurred in western New York, which struggled with super-size snow drifts that snarled emergency vehicles. Buffalo’s responders rescued hundreds trapped in cars.

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Updated December 26, 2022 at 11:17 AM ET
A massive winter storm that’s killed about 50 people across the U.S. is expected to claim more lives as the frigid weather continues into the week. More than half the deaths occurred in western New York, in what Buffalo’s mayor called a “once-in-a-generation storm.”

For six days, a blast of polar air from Canada has been wrecking holiday travel plans as it lumbers across the country, leaving power outages, canceled flights and dangerous roads in its wake.

About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory over the holiday weekend. Drastically low temperatures stretched from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande.

Western New York saw days of sustained blizzard conditions, which dropped over 48 inches of snow and sent temperatures plummeting to minus 22 degrees when accounting for wind chill. The region accounted for 27 of the overall storm-related deaths across the country.

On Sunday, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city of Buffalo had been stranded amid super-size snowdrifts.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told NPR’s Morning Edition that his city’s emergency responders have gone “car by car” to perform hundreds of rescues of stranded motorists.

“This has been called a generational storm — a once-in-a-generation storm,” Brown said. “It’s unlike anything that even the city of Buffalo is used to getting.”

The city’s current death toll, 14, is expected to rise. A driving ban in the region and airport closure remained in effect Monday.

“At one time, over 20,000 people were without power in the city of Buffalo,” Brown said.

“That number is now below 10,000, and we will continue to work aggressively and strategically with National Grid all day today to continue to reduce that number and get everyone’s power restored,” he added, referring to the local utility.

Communities from coast to coast have lost power over the course of the week, but the worst of rolling blackouts appeared to have subsided. A mid-Atlantic grid operator, PJM interconnection, said Sunday that utilities could meet the day’s demand after it initially asked 65 million customers to conserve energy amid Saturday’s freeze.

As of Monday morning, about 183,000 customers were still without heat and lights, down from a peak of 1.7 million earlier in the week, according to the tracking site poweroutage.us.

The National Weather Service said conditions are expected to remain frigid and hazardous on Monday, but start to moderate on Tuesday then continue to slowly improve as the week moves ahead.

That could be good news for winter travelers. Airports continued to report thousands of flight cancellations and delays Monday morning, with those flying to or from the Great Lakes region looking most impacted.

The NWS still advises caution for anyone looking to venture outside: High wind speeds and low temperatures are a recipe for frostbite, which can take root in less than 10 minutes of exposure.

Local authorities have reported storm-related deaths from a host of causes. In Niagara County, N.Y., a 27-year-old man was poisoned by carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace. In Ohio, a utility worker was electrocuted. A Wisconsin woman fell through river ice. A falling branch claimed the life of a Vermont resident. And at least six were killed in car crashes in Missouri, Kentucky and Oklahoma.

The Associated Press contributed reporting.

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