Brutal winter storm paralyzes parts of U.S., leaving dozens dead

A brutal freeze is paralyzing parts of the United States. At least 50 people have died in the fierce winter storm with 27 of those deaths in western New York. Tens of thousands of customers across the country are still without electricity. Buffalo, New York Mayor Byron Brown joined Laura Barrón-López to discuss the storm's toll on his city.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A brutal freeze is still paralyzing parts of the United States tonight. At least 50 people have now died in the fierce winter storm; 27 of those deaths have been in Western New York state alone. Tens of thousands of customers across the country are still without electricity.

    Laura Barrón-López has the latest.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    As Buffalo woke to blankets of snow today, its residents began a long morning of digging out their homes, the worst blizzard some have seen in decades.

  • Donna Scaduto, Buffalo Resident:

    It's horrible. I can't believe it. I think this is the worst that we have had since I have been through the blizzard of '77.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    While others were left powerless.

  • Speaker:

    I know there's neighbors just down the street that lost power last night. And it's been really tough for a lot of people.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The holiday weekend storm brought hurricane-force winds and buried Western New York under feet of thick snow. Some parts of Buffalo reported up to 40 inches of snow overnight. Its effects were lethal, as rescuers found the dead in cars, homes and in snowbanks.

    It paralyzed state and local emergency services, including Buffalo's fire department, which couldn't respond to calls, while the city's airports today remain shut.

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul (D-NY):

    It is still a dangerous situation to be out.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    New York Governor Kathy Hochul warned of worse weather to come and urged drivers to stay off the roads.

  • Gov. Kathy Hochul:

    We still have scores and scores of vehicles that were abandoned when people left during the storm or just in a ditch. They can't possibly get out. We have had snowplows, major snowplows, and rescue vehicles — I saw them myself — in ditches buried in snow.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Nationwide, roughly 60 percent of Americans were placed under winter weather advisories or warnings, which reached as far south as the U.S.-Mexico border.

    It scrambled travel plans for thousands, like this couple in Kentucky who were trapped in their car.

  • Speaker:

    It's almost 12 hours.

  • Speaker:

    Almost 12 hours.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    As for a Christmas meal, they were lucky.

  • Speaker:

    We each got a water from the semitruck driver, and just that — the sandwich and a granola bar from him.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    But, in Ohio, a deadly collision on the highway. Whiteout conditions caused a 46-car pileup that killed four people and left others injured.

    Airlines have canceled more than 17,000 flights since last Wednesday and left many hoping for warmer days to come.

    For more about the storm's toll in the situation the ground in Buffalo, I'm joined on the phone by Mayor Byron Brown. He has been visiting hospitals around the city this afternoon.

    Mayor Brown, thank you much for joining us today.

    Can you tell us what the situation is like on the ground, specifically in those hospitals that you have been visiting?

    Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo, New York: The situation has improved a bit today, weather conditions milder than Saturday and Sunday, where we had extreme blizzard conditions.

    Still snowing in Buffalo very lightly right now. We have made a lot of progress with plowing, to work with our power company to help National Grid restore power to homes, at one time over 20,000 without power. Now that is down to just over 8,000 without power. We continue to work very aggressively with National Grid to continue the power restoration process.

    We have completed the process of rescuing stranded motorists, motorists that were stranded in their vehicles. We have also been plowing to assist emergency medical calls and fire calls. We are now continuing to plow mains to keep them open, so that there is hospital access.

    And we're into the residential streets now. So, we have made significant progress today. Unfortunately, the death toll in the city of Buffalo has increased. And Buffalo police, based on 911 calls and other information, feel that that number will continue to rise.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    As Buffalo works to get out of this horrific storm, you said that there are some 8,000 still without power.

    What resources are you able to provide to those people?

  • Byron Brown:

    What we're telling people without power — and I was one of those people until yesterday — to put on extra layers of clothes, to bundle up, to make sure that they have extra coverings while they're sleeping.

    One of the safest places in a storm of this intensity is in the home. In my home, without power, the temperature inside the house had gotten down to about 40 degrees. We could see our breath in the house. We huddled in one room as a family with extra layers of clothing to stay as warm as possible.

    However, we know that there are some homes that have been without power for four days. In this extreme cold, that is incredibly uncomfortable. So, families that need to go to warming centers, we do have warming centers. We have opened up all of our police stations and fire stations for people that need to get into a warm location.

    And we have been doing welfare checks with Buffalo police and Buffalo Fire to check on the elderly, to check on families with young children.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    You said today that you had warned the public repeatedly about this being a once-in-a-generation storm, told them to buy groceries and to stop driving as — by the middle of last week

    Did that message fail to get through?

  • Byron Brown:

    Most people followed the message. Unfortunately, more vehicles on the roads than we would have liked to have seen with a driving ban imposed by the city and the county Friday, effective 9:30 a.m.

    There were too many people out driving. We literally had to rescue hundreds of people from the roads. But the majority of people in our community did follow the guidance. That was helpful. Unfortunately, because of vehicles on the road, it did slow some of our response to being able to plow, to be able to address emergency medical situations, and to rescue stranded motorists.

    But we have continued to work through that. We are not letting those issues stop us from doing everything that we can to protect the health and safety of the residents of our community.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Mayor Byron Brown of Buffalo, thank you for your time. And our thoughts are with you and Buffalo residents as your community tries to recover from this storm.

  • Byron Brown:

    Thank you. Thank you very much.

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