Buffalo area hit with epic snow — with more coming

AP Photo/The Buffalo News

Homeowners opened their front doors to find sheer walls of white. Shovelers turned walkways into head-high canyons. A woman gave birth in a firehouse after the snow prevented her from reaching the hospital.

Even for Buffalo, a place that typically shrugs at snow, this was an epic snowfall — the kind of onslaught folks will be telling their grandchildren about.

The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as 5½ feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring 2 to 3 more feet by late Thursday.

“This is an historic event. When all is said and done, this snowstorm will break all sorts of records, and that's saying something in Buffalo,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said during a visit to the city.

The storm came in so fast and furious over Lake Erie early Tuesday it trapped more than 100 vehicles along a 132-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway that remained closed Wednesday. People were marooned at homes, on highways and at work. Residents who can handle 6 inches of snow as if it were a light dusting were forced to improvise.

How snowy was it? The National Weather Service said it was so bad that some of the spotters it relies on to update accumulation totals couldn't get out of their houses to take measurements.

Tom Wilson, of West Seneca, split a Salisbury steak frozen dinner with co-workers and tried his best to get some rest when he was stuck 36 hours at his warehouse job.

“I slept on a pallet. Then I slept on some office chairs, and then I went back to the pallet,” he said. “Then I found some sponges to lay on. I found one pack of sponges unopened. That looks like a pillow to me.”

“We tried to make popcorn with a two-by-four, two empty pop kegs, some charcoal and a dust pan,” he added. “It didn't work.”

Trapped on a team bus on the Thruway for nearly 30 hours, the Niagara University women's basketball team melted snow for water, posed with long faces for pictures that were posted online and generally tried to keep each other's spirits up during what the coach said amounted to a good team bonding experience.

“There's definitely nothing in the coaching handbook to prepare you for this,” said coach Kendra Faustin.

A woman gave birth in a Buffalo fire station after she couldn't get to the hospital. And a widely shared picture on the Web showed a phalanx of firefighters walking with a patient down an unpassable street.

Cuomo said Wednesday afternoon that all the trapped travelers had been removed from their cars, though some truckers were staying with their rigs

The storm was blamed for up to six western New York deaths, at least three of them from heart attacks. Erie County officials said a 46-year-old man was discovered in his car, which was in a ditch and buried in snow 24 miles east of Buffalo. It was unclear how he died.

Sunny skies returned to some hard-hit areas Wednesday, but workers were still trying to cart off the acres of snow. Lake-effect snow fell heavily on some northern New York areas east of Lake Ontario.

With an additional 2 to 3 feet possible by Thursday, the one-week snow totals for the Buffalo area will approach the average snowfall for an entire year: 93.6 inches, or close to 8 feet.

The governor said it would take four or five days to clean up. He told residents of hard-hit areas to stay off the roads.

The Buffalo Bills offered $10 an hour plus game tickets for people willing to help shovel out the stands in Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, in the snow belt southeast of the city.

Team spokesman Scott Berchtold said the team has an estimated 220,000 tons of snow to remove from the stadium before Sunday's game against the Jets — more than ever before.

The snow heaped so high on the roof a Cheektowaga home that when it fell, the force blew in the back door, frame and all, and filled the living room with snow.

“It was a huge crash. … We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house,” said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard, who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children's friends.

Amtrak passenger train service between Albany and the Buffalo area was suspended. And that old “Neither snow nor rain …” Postal Service motto? Mail delivery was interrupted in certain communities with driving bans.

The storm struck Buffalo on a day when temperatures dropped to freezing or below in all 50 states. At least a foot of fresh snow was expected in parts of Michigan through Friday, adding to deep snow on the ground.

In Corpus Christi, Texas, experts are caring for about 140 turtles stunned in a cold snap that left the reptiles stranded on Gulf Coast beaches.

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