Gov. Kathy Hochul talked on Saturday about the relentless winter storm moving throughout New York State. She toured portions of the state and will be giving assessment updates throughout the weekend. She ordered the National Guard to move into Buffalo to assist due to "the blinding snow, the zero visibility, absolute whiteouts," adding that Elliott "may go down as one of the worst in history."
There are about 73,000 customers without power in this region, including 5,000 in Genesee County, she said.
In addition to the Statewide State of Emergency, Hochul will also be asking for a federal emergency to be declared, she said in a press release issued Saturday afternoon.
"People are comparing this to the dreaded blizzard of '77, where Buffalo first got its reputation for having an unprecedented amount of snow. We broke that record again a month ago," she said. "So it's very clear to me that the effects of climate change are wreaking havoc everywhere from the streets of Queens with flooding, all the way up to the City of Buffalo.
"But it is life-threatening, what is going on as we speak in Buffalo. Getting calls through the night from frightened neighbors where the temperature's been off for many, many hours - over the course of a day, day and a half.
"So that seems to be the epicenter of this storm that just doesn't seem to be moving on, she said. It is concentrated there," she said. "And so the National Guard had to come in to help with medical emergencies, people who cannot get to the hospital if necessary, to help doctors and nurses get to their jobs in hospitals and health care facilities, as well as helping our seniors who are stranded.
"So we have had people stranded on the highways. I understand that the New York State Thruway, which remains closed in the Western part of the region, we had over 20 people stranded in a very small stretch up until just a short time ago, as well as several hundred who've been stranded on various roads throughout the region.
"What happens in those circumstances? People literally trapped in their cars overnight. Fortunately, our State Police were able to make contact with every single individual, and we literally had snowplows going up to the vehicles and rescuing people, taking them out, and getting them into warming centers because it is absolutely dangerous for anyone to be on the roads - and that includes our emergency vehicles," she said. "So our National Guard, our first responders, our ambulances, our fire trucks are all getting stuck in the snow as well. In fact, almost every fire truck in the City of Buffalo is stranded, it is stuck in snow. And we're just getting through releasing of about 14 or so ambulances that were stuck as well."
More locally, Genesee County's various police, fire, and emergency crews have been out now for two days, retrieving people from snowbanks and ditches or otherwise were stranded due to no visibility.
The basic message is that warming centers will remain open while people are encouraged to stay home. Roads are closed throughout Western New York and will be, probably through Christmas Day, Hochul said.
Her press release included:
And it's really sad for all the individuals who have not been able to see family members - airport delays, and not able to be driving because of driving bans. But it is more important that people stay safe. You'll have your holiday with your loved ones over New Year's and into the next year. But this is a weekend where it is absolutely dangerous in some parts of our state, particularly the Western part, to be out there. So we want to encourage people to stay where they are.
In addition to having a statewide Emergency Declaration, I'll be asking the federal government for a Declaration of Emergency that'll allow us to seek reimbursements for the extraordinary expenses of all the overtime and the fact that we've brought in mutual aid from other parts of the state. We've deployed individuals, whether it's the utility crews have come, but also making sure that we have all the vehicles we need. But literally, they cannot get through right now, no matter how many emergency vehicles we have, they just can't get through the conditions as we speak.
So that is what's happening in other parts of the state. At this point, I'll be asking Kathryn Garcia, the Head of Statewide Operations who's been embedded with all of us in our command centers monitoring what's going on throughout the state.
But I did want to put a special spotlight right now on the City of New York. It got through some tough circumstances, with the high winds, the ice, the freezing cold. And it is still a dangerous situation. We want to confirm that just because you see clear skies and the rain has stopped and the flooding seems to have abated, that it is still vulnerable because of the icy cold temperatures which can be life-threatening.