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January 27, 2023 - 8:05am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, weather, Winter Storm Elliott, genesee county.

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From plowing roads and driveways, digging out stranded motorists, transporting people to safer locations, getting food and medical care to those in need and extending a warm and friendly hand of hope to people who had quite literally felt their lives were in danger, Genesee County officials and emergency responders took some moments this week to celebrate bravery, extraordinary efforts and well-deserved kudos for their ongoing work during Blizzard Elliott in late December.

County legislators read proclamations honoring each district within the county, as emergency responders gathered in camaraderie to share highlights of that three-day ordeal. The breadth and scope of the rescues, though attempted through stories, news reports and online posts, have still probably missed some of the myriad elements involved during those blindingly snow-blanketed days.

Once Elliott blew through the northwest corner of the county, “raging its fury on the Town of Alabama and surrounding areas, causing life-threatening circumstances to many travelers and farm animals,” the proclamation begins, “and Blizzard Elliott debilitated this district in a very short time, causing roadways to be unpassable. With the quick action of so many, it is easy to say we have heroes amongst us.”

Genesee County assisted more than 700 travelers, with dispatch taking 1,021 service calls and first responders rescuing 125 people. Approximately 240 cars and 60 tractor-trailers were stuck in drifts as high as 10-feet, county officials said, and 12 warming shelters were opened in surrounding areas. Hundreds of vehicles were pulled out of ditches by tow trucks, farmers, firefighters and good Samaritans.

“The Genesee County Legislature recognizes and admires our dedicated law enforcement, firefighters, emergency management, highway, elected leaders, food banks, schools, churches, tow truck operators, snowmobile clubs, local businesses and citizens who all rose to the occasion when others needed help,” the proclamation states. “Now, therefore, be it resolved the Genesee County Legislature would like to thank you ALL for the available forces of manpower, equipment and community helping hands that came together. The goal of preserving life was focused on and achieved. Volunteers who left their families to search for and save visitors are our most valued community members.

“Thank you to the warming shelters for providing safety, food and care to stranded visitors, thus demonstrating the high level of dedication we have for humankind in Genesee County. We extend our gratitude and respect for your community response to Elliott,” it states.

Likewise, Sheriff William Sheron, Emergency Management Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger and County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens shared about the high level of cooperation and collaboration amongst the county’s emergency service and highway providers, and how that made such a difference in the results during that winter storm. There were no fatalities.

“Thank you for the service we have here in Genesee County,” Sheron said. “Undoubtedly, you have saved lives. We wouldn’t be able to survive without you guys. What a team effort. I can’t thank you enough, from the bottom of our hearts.”

Hens also thanked everyone and said he was proud to represent the town and village highway superintendents and city public works. Everyone “put aside barriers” and got the job done to ensure that roads were cleared when possible.

“I want to recognize their efforts. They all came to the call,” he said. “It’s truly remarkable how our community comes together.”

A nod of thanks and appreciation was also given to County Manager Matt Landers, who worked throughout that Christmas weekend helping to rally friends for food donations and, with his daughter as sidekick helper, drove around to pick up items and get them to the staging area of the city fire station.

Photos by Howard Owens  Top Photo of Emergency Management Services Coordinator Tim Yaeger at the podium as Sheriff William Sheron looks on during the proclamation ceremony.

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County Legislators John Deleo and Marianne Clattenburg watch a video about Winter Storm Elliott that was produced by the Town of Alabama Highway Department.

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Legislator Marianne Clattenburg with (not in order) Gary Patnode, Alabama Fire Chief, David Boyle, Village of Oakfield, Nate Fix and Anthony Johnston of SnoPackers, Sean Downing, Oakfield Fire Chief, and Oakfield Assistant Fire Chief Chad Williams; 

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Legislator Christian Yunker with (not in order) Vito Muoio, South Byron Fire, Jeremy Rassel, South Byron Fire, Garett Dean, Bergen Fire, Robert Mruczek, Byron Fire Chief, Nick Esten, Elba Fire Chief, and Gretchen Rosales, superintendent of Elba School District. 

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Legislator Gordon Dibble with LuAnne Mileham, Ed Mileham, Indian Falls/Pembroke Assistant Fire Chief, Greg Lang, Corfu Fire Chief, and Jeff Luker, Darien Fire Chief.

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Legislator Brooks Hawley with (not in order) Christopher Scopano, LeRoy Ambulance, Tim Eckdahl, Stafford Fire Chief, Craig Johnson, LeRoy Fire Chief, and Paul Dibble, Town of Batavia Fire Chief.

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Legislator Gregg Torrey with Jeff Fluker, Bethany Fire Chief, left, Carl Hyde Jr., Bethany Town Supervisor, right.

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Legislator John Deleo, Euguene Jankowski Jr., City Council President,  Jeffrey Bartz, Grace Baptist Church,  Bob Fix, City of Batavia Fire, and Christopher Camp, Batavia City Assistant Police Chief.

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Legislator Gary Maha, with (not in order) Pam McCarthy, Mercy EMS, Sheriff William Sheron, Undersheriff Bradley Mazur,  Sgt. Kyle Krzemien, Deputy Jonathan Dimming, Deputy Jacob Kipler, Highway Superintendent Tim Hens,  Superintendent, Tim Yaeger, Emergency Management Services Coordinator, Frank Riccobono, Communications Director,  Scott Hultz, NYSDOT Resident Engineer for Genesee & Orleans Counties, and  Jeff Braley, NYSDOT Resident Engineer for Genesee & Orleans Counties.

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Sheriff William Sheron.

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County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens

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Marianne Clattenburg thanks County Manager Matt Landers for his efforts and leadership during the storm

January 25, 2023 - 2:20pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, weather, cancellations.

Cancellations for Wednesday, Jan. 25 are below. This list will be updated as we receive submissions. Send cancellations to [email protected].

  • Alabama Fire has canceled bingo due to the weather.
  • All after school and evening activities at Batavia City School District have been canceled for Wednesday.
  • The BHS Opening Reception at GO ART! has been canceled this evening. It has been rescheduled for Feb. 15.  
  • Due to the deteriorating weather conditions, Elba Central School is canceling all afterschool and evening activities for Wednesday.
  • Northgate FMC Wednesday Night 7 p.m. Men's Group has been canceled.
January 24, 2023 - 3:04pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, news.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for Wednesday, starting at 7 a.m. and lasting until 10 p.m.

The National Weather Service anticipates mixed precipitation, changing to mainly light rain by Wednesday evening. 

Total snow accumulation could be 2 to 4 inches.

Wind gusts of 30 mph expected.

Travelers are advised of potentially slippery road conditions.

 

 

January 23, 2023 - 1:05pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Tonawanda Creek, news, weather, batavia.

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It was a white world in Batavia this morning, with snow still clinging to tree branches, piled on the ground and nearly white, overcast skies, including along the Tonawanda Creek behind the County Courthouse.

January 18, 2023 - 3:01pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, news.

A winter weather advisory has been issued for 4 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday.

Mixed precipitation is expected with total ice accumulation of one-tenth of an inch.

Total snow and sleet accumulations of less than an inch is expected.

A mix of freezing rain, sleet, and snow will spread from southwest to northeast through early Thursday
afternoon. Mixed precipitation will change over to all rain Thursday afternoon.

Use caution and expect slippery road conditions. 

January 16, 2023 - 9:56pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, news.

Freezing rain is expected overnight with total accumulations of a few hundredths of an inch, the National Weather Service advises.

A winter weather advisory has been issued starting at 1 a.m. and ending at 7 a.m.

Drivers should plan on slippery road conditions. The hazardous conditions could impact the morning commute.

January 9, 2023 - 3:32pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Winter Storm Elliott, Lamb Farms, weather, Oakfield.

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As much of December’s snow has melted away and people’s memories are tucked into winter storm history books, there are folks still assessing the damage caused to the county’s biggest industry: agriculture.

To quote Kendra Lamb of Lamb Farms, the loss was “unprecedented” in terms of milk that had to be dumped due to trucks not being able to navigate the snow-blown roads beginning that Friday, Dec. 23.

All four of Lamb’s operations in Oakfield, Albion, Wilson and Ohio had to dump milk — 46,000 gallons — from milk plants that had frozen from loss of power and then milk trucks out of commission.

“It wasn’t safe for the milk trucks to travel,” she said. “We let it run down the drain into the fields, into the manure lagoons. I think we had prepared ourselves for the possibility; we weren’t going to ask milk trucks to risk driving.”

In addition to the issue of milk product loss, there were the calves, buried in calf hutches that had to be dug out after being pummeled by driving wind and snow. It was all hands on deck, digging down to get to the hutches below, she said.

Some calves suffered frostbite and recovered, though 10 did not, and were humanely euthanized.

“The calf hutches were completely buried in snow. We were concerned our calves were suffocating. We poked holes in the snow, trying to keep them alive,” Lamb said. “We will look into insurance for the milk beyond what the cooperative would cover. We were just so thankful all our people stayed safe. I was very afraid someone could get hurt. For a number of our animals, we were thankful.”

The community has been “incredible,” she said, and everyone jumped into the fray to help out. Those who were stuck at the farm in the snow were shoveled out so that they could in turn, help to free the animals, she said.

Out of 500 calves, “we got 200 out in whiteout conditions,” she said.

The next order of business was to relocate all of those animals to a warm, safe space, as they were snow-covered and wet, with high chances of getting sick. Over the course of several 12-hour days, they were filled with removing animals, removing snow, and putting animals back into a warmer space, and repeat.

“We were stuffing calves everywhere,” she said. “I woke up and asked, ‘where are they?’ The calf facility was ground zero. This one was hopefully a generational storm. We’re breathing a little easier. I think some of us will have some trauma. This was hard. We were scared for the safety of our people and animals.”

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Of her 13 years with the farm, they were “the worst days of my life,” she said. Post-storm duty included ensuring as much consistency — which cows like — as possible and to keep floors stable with grit to prevent slipping on icy surfaces and maintaining a regular milking schedule.

“Overall, it was a hugely impactful storm for us,” she said. “It was very, very scary; it was just exhausting, physically and emotionally. We won’t be forgetting this any time soon.”

Lamb isn’t expecting to receive any reimbursement from the state and said the farm will be submitting a claim to its insurance company, though they “aren’t sure about our chances of success.”

A phone call to the Genesee County Farm Bureau for comment and storm-related statistics was referred to the state Department of Agriculture and Markets commissioner, and phone calls to and emails sent there were not returned.

Lamb Farms’ social media posts illustrate how the property went from a happy “Merry Xmas” photo of a colorfully lit tractor on Dec. 4 to the snow-engulfed calf hutches later that month (above), to a more serene sunset over bare roads more recently.

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The sun has set on the day, and things are starting to look a little more normal after the brutal blizzard hit on Friday. We were very hard-hit by the storm, and it has been a rough stretch for our farm team. The hard work and dedication of our team and many others willing to step in and help out has been heart-warming and so very appreciated! We end the day tired, physically and mentally, but beyond thankful for each one who has gone above and beyond to help in our time of need! merry xmas lamb farms.

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Talk about a sight for sore eyes! The blizzard that hit western NY before Christmas was especially hard on our calf facility. The 500 calves in hutches all had to be dug out and relocated while we cleared snow and re-set hutches. (Before pictures included for reference) While we'll still be dealing with residual effects of the storm for a while, it's nice to see things returning to normal.

Our farm team did an awesome job caring for our animals and clearing snow in the worst conditions, with the help of some very kind friends and family! We're grateful and relieved that our people and animals stayed safe during the storm ... and hope we don't see another one like that for a very long time! Photos from Lamb Farms.

December 31, 2022 - 3:26pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in thruway, winter storm eilliott, news, weather.

The NYS Thruway Authority has taken exception to reporting by The Batavian that the agency had no plan on Dec. 23 when it closed the portion of the I-90 going through Genesee County to route motorists away from the affected storm area.

In a Dec. 29 story about the response of the Oakfield and Alabama fire departments to rescue travelers, The Batavian reported:

The dangers of the storm were exacerbated by a Thruway Authority that shut down the I-90 with no plan to send travelers on safe routes and with Google and Apple map technology ill-equipped to warn drivers of dangerous weather conditions and send them on routes that would take them around the hazardous roads. 

In another story published that same day, we reported:

As hundreds of travelers learned on Friday, their trip on the Thruway would get abruptly cut off when a travel ban was issued and a large portion of the Thruway closed.

Jessica Mazurowski, public information officer for the Thruway cited both of these stories in an email to The Batavian on Thursday, saying she "wanted to make a few points to you about the storm."

Mazurowski wrote:

It’s unclear who is making this statement -- the paper or the County Manager. However, on Friday, when these people were traveling, and the Thruway closed, no one should’ve been traveling. Travel bans were already in effect in Erie and Genesee Counties, as well as surrounding areas. We close or issue travel bans in direct coordination with state and local entities to ensure everyone is on the same page.

All major media outlets across New York were reporting on this storm days in advance. Erie County and Genesee County both issued travel advisories on Thursday, Dec. 22 and upgraded them to travel bans on Friday, Dec. 23. The Thruway Authority announced the commercial vehicle ban on Thursday, Dec. 22 and began messaging on digital highway signs into Pennsylvania, to the Massachusetts state line and down to New York City. Messaging was also on social media, our website, and our mobile app, not just on the commercial vehicle ban but about the severity of the storm and urging motorists not to drive.   When the full vehicle ban was announced on I-90 from exit 46 to the PA state line, the messaging was on digital highway signs statewide and into PA, on social media and our website, and mobile app.

The Batavian's reporting is based on statements from multiple sources, not just County Manager Matt Landers, that the vast majority of people being rescued or seeking shelter in the homes of residents or warming shelters were from out of state and were forced off the Thruway in Genesee County with no idea of the local travel ban, the looming storm, its location, or the hazardous conditions a storm of this magnitude might manifest.

Our sources include other government officials, volunteer firefighters, tow-truck operators, residents who provided shelter, and some of the motorists themselves.

After receiving her email, The Batavian sent multiple questions to Mazurowski and received no response.

We wanted to know, If the Thruway Authority had prior knowledge of the dangers of the storm, why did it take so long to institute a travel ban?  Were travelers provided enough time to exit the Thruway before reaching the hazard zone?

Why was there no signage or traffic control at the Thruway exits to ensure travelers did not head north of the Thruway once they were in Genesee County?  Or was there signage we don't know about, and travelers just ignored it?

Our story stated the TA had no plan to deal with the unsafe conditions for travelers before dumping motorists off the I-90 onto rural roads.  We wrote to her, "Nothing in your response indicates the TA did, in fact, did have a plan in place to ensure the safety of travelers once they exited the Thruway." 

We noted to Mazurowski that it is unrealistic to expect all travelers to be aware of weather conditions, travel bans, or have familiarity with blizzards and lake effect snow (several sources told The Batavian, in fact, that many travelers had never encountered conditions such as they saw in Oakfield and Alabama on Friday and Saturday).

Motorists and passengers may not have tuned into terrestrial radio or have downloaded the appropriate apps to receive alerts. 

We asked, "Is it reasonable for the TA to assume that ALL travelers were aware of the hazards ahead?  Shouldn't it be foreseeable by the TA that some percentage of travelers will be unaware and unprepared, or engage in a blind unwillingness to listen to good advice?  Shouldn't the TA take precautions to help protect people from their own lack of knowledge and experience?"

We concluded, "So the question remains, what was the TA's plan to route travelers off the i-90 to safe locations?"

We followed up with Mazurowski on Friday and received a response that she was out of the office and to direct any questions to the general email address for the public information office.  We did. And still did not receive answers to these questions.

December 31, 2022 - 8:00am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Oakfield, Winter Storm Elliott, weather.

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Ever since the Christmas weekend blizzard, there have been stories of rescues, heroism, movie-making camaraderie, generosity and trust amongst strangers.

For Susan Zeliff — who with husband Peter Jr. opened up a warming shelter during the three-day storm — there was another story in her mind that certainly captured the holiday spirit.

“I feel a lot of the thought I had was, it has a lot of similarities to the Mary and Joseph story,” Zeliff said Friday. “Here are these people seeking refuge, to find a place to sleep.That scenario crossed my mind a lot.”

Mary and husband Joseph, arguably one of the most well-known stories in the Bible (first chapter of Matthew), could not find shelter on their journey, and ended up finding a manger for rest. Hundreds of strangers traveling to see family and friends found themselves on a similar journey of being in need of warmth, comfort and a place to rest their heads.

Dozens of those travelers ended up at the “GOOSE,” a community center in the heart of Oakfield. As last Friday (Dec. 23) wore on, members of Oakfield Fire Hall had been besieged by motorists stuck in the blizzard, and Ed Spence, the department’s chaplain, asked if there was anything he could do to help. Someone suggested using The GOOSE as a warming shelter.

Spence contacted Peter Friday, and his reply was, “give me five minutes.” They were soon on their way to transforming the Main Street center into a shelter by moving tables and bringing in food and drinks.

“We were getting ready for the influx of what we thought was about to happen,” Spence said. “Pete and I were meeting them at the door, welcoming them. They came, and they just kept coming.”

When the flow of visitors stopped, there were 60 people and a dog at the site, Susan Zeliff said. She credits her husband for taking “a good chunk of the responsibility” for these strangers in need of a safe place to stay, and Spence, plus a community ready to assist with homemade and packaged foods, pillows, blankets, and coloring books for the children.

Two residents graciously — and deliciously — baked bread, with one woman making 12 loaves and the other one adding pasta to her bread. The aroma made Zeliff want to take it home, she joked; it was that fragrantly mouth-watering.

“The whole community kind of rallied together,” she said. “We did soup for lunch, and thankfully we had gotten a shipment of milk so there was cereal for breakfast. I was not too worried since we had the food pantry. And people were reaching out to us.”

A common thread amongst the travelers, per others who have spoken about their experiences, was also true at the GOOSE, Susan said: most people were of international descent, including India, Japan and China, and many who did not speak English. Spence added that there was usually one person per family group that served as interpreter, and communication was not a big problem.

Some Muslims took solace in the back of a room to pray, and there was a lot of gratitude throughout the three-day ordeal, he said.

People wiled away the time charging their phones, talking, checking the weather and getting in touch with those that were waiting for them on the other end of their trip. Despite the circumstances and odds for anger and frustration to rule the day, it wasn’t like that at all, Spence said.

“It was wonderful, they were smiling, and they were extremely polite,” he said. “I asked people to stand up and introduce themselves. There was a lot of laughing and joking, believe it or not.”

As a retired firefighter of 14 years, he has seen a lot of weather events, with this now being “the worst I’ve ever seen.” As with the Zeliffs, he was impressed with the response of the community and volunteer responders.

“I can’t say enough about the fire departments in Oakfield and Alabama (and throughout Genesee County),” he said. “And I can’t say enough about the emergency manager Tim Yaeger. He did a fantastic job.”

Spence’s own Friday evening got off to a rocky start. He picked up his wife Wendy from her job at United Memorial Medical Center, and got her to her mother’s house in Oakfield; however, he found it tough going from there. Driving with his head out the window, he drove “two miles an hour to get not even a mile,” he said, and that took 40 minutes. At one point, his truck got stuck in the snow and he needed to be pulled out.

Most of his holiday weekend was spent as a liaison between the 60 travelers and Oakfield fire personnel. When some people tried to leave in their vehicles, he told them point blank: if you go out there, you’re going to die. Blunt, yes, but he felt those people needed a simple truth.

While it may seem as though the stress and inconvenience would have wrenched anyone’s nerves, people stepped up to the circumstances, he said.

“People made the best out of a bad situation, people were phenomenal,” he said. “It was a really positive event.”

Likewise, Susan believes the weekend was a good lesson in the universal language of kindness.

“Just for people to take care of people,  it doesn't matter. Your culture doesn't matter. Your skin type doesn't matter. Even your language,” she said. “They couldn't understand us, we didn't understand them, but we made it work.”

Photo of an online post from The GOOSE Community Center explaining that "this is what the lunch looks like for about 50 people hanging at The GOOSE in the blizzard." The canned goods were available from the center's food pantry.  

December 29, 2022 - 7:55am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Oakfield, Winter Storm Elliott, weather.

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It took a few days for Thera Sanchez to process her holiday weekend before she felt able to describe it.

After all, she and partner Pavel Belov hadn't expected events to unfold quite as they did since the unrelenting storm blew in Friday and hovered over their Oakfield residence and nearby roadways. While they remained at home, hundreds of motorists were trying to navigate unknown territory after being moved off the Thruway Friday.

Without knowledge of what they were driving into, many of those motorists got stuck in piles of windblown snow with little to no visibility of what surrounded them. Around 7:30 p.m., the couple noticed two sets of headlights out on the road, Sanchez said.

"We kept checking to see if we could see them until about 10 p.m. We got dressed up in our hunting gear and went to help them. The moment we stepped off of the porch, the snow was stinging my face. I put my glasses on to keep the snow away from my eyes, but the air was so cold it was hard to keep them open," she said. "Both of us, with flashlights and shovels in our hands, we find the road. We walk towards the headlights. We see the two. Then I saw three. Then I saw four. There were seven. We went up to each one and invited all into our home."

By last count, they had 11 strangers in their house. A friend stayed in her car because she had two dogs with her, and the Belov-Sanchez couple has three dogs of their own, she said. She and Pavel brought her food, treats and water and kept a check on her throughout the weekend.

Meanwhile, others just celebrated getting out of their vehicles.

"Some cried and some were just so happy to stand. We had friends from India, the Philippines, South Carolina, Maryland, and a couple were local. Whether they were heading home or to family Christmas, their trip was longer than expected. They were stranded," Sanchez said. "There was one guy who was in deep trouble. We almost didn't see his white van in the snow, but Pavel did, and went back for him. He had run out of gas and was sitting there for five hours in the cold, with just a hoodie, sweatpants and slippers on."

Their guests stayed with them untill Sunday morning, when roads had been cleaned and Storm Elliott finally retreated from the area. As people often do in the face of a crisis, Belov and Sanchez offered hospitality and cared for their guests for the duration. They didn't even feel the toll until it was over, Sanchez said.

"Hosting that many people with the stress of Christmas -- and then the stress of it being canceled -- was intense. Yet, we still had a blast together and toasted on Christmas Eve," she said. "We didn't feel it until everyone was gone. It's been an emotional rollercoaster since."

Stranded travelers

They weren't the only ones to feel the weight of the situation. What began as a fun trip to see the Bare Naked Ladies ended as an emotional breakdown of relief for traveler Angela Saiz and her passenger.

Saiz, of Rockville, MD, and friend Stephanie Argoe of South Carolina were in Toronto to see the concert last Thursday and had planned to return Friday morning. Flights were canceled due to the storm, so they decided to rent a car and drive.

As hundreds of travelers learned on Friday, their trip on the Thruway would get abruptly cut off when a travel ban was issued and a large portion of the Thruway closed.

“As soon as we crossed the border, conditions changed so quickly,” Saiz said Monday to The Batavian. “I couldn't believe that I didn't get some kind of Amber Alert like I get. Nothing came through on my phone that said travel ban, no driving, seek refuge, nothing.

“My rental car was doing just fine until, it was just, the whiteout hit so quick,” she said.

Their journey had been diverted from the Thruway onto side roads through Genesee County. Saiz was navigating down drift-covered rural roads with patches of visibility until there was nothing to see through her windshield. They got stuck in a snow drift and a good samaritan pulled them out, but by that time, conditions were deteriorating and “it was not safe to drive,” she said.

They called for help at 3:40 p.m. Friday, and Genesee County dispatch told them to hang tight and that someone would be there in a couple of hours. They also called AAA dispatch, which told them no one was allowed to drive into that area.

Meanwhile, the women waited in the car — thankfully with a full tank of gas they estimated would provide heat for at least 24 hours — but without water or food.

Saiz emphasized that she’s no newbie to the world of travel, having been a flight attendant and flying for her career some 200 times a year, and her husband is a commercial landscaper, so she’s also aware of how to deal with snow.

What she wasn’t prepared for, though, were the complete whiteouts and radio silence after two hours turned into several. They were stranded at the corner of Lewiston and Lockport roads.

“Every three hours we would call dispatch just to get an update. My frustration was that communication was horrific. All I wanted was the truth … I just wanted to know, do I need to mentally prepare to be in this car all night?” she said. “About after midnight, all of a sudden, we could see other cars. There was a car next to us, we could see lights and flashers on other cars. You couldn't tell how close or far away they were. And so, finally, we saw two people coming toward us that we thought were emergency workers. And I rolled my window down, and we both started crying. And they said, ‘we live across the street; we're happy to bring you in.’”

Generous hosts

The couple, known as Pavel and Thera, said they lived across the street and offered shelter for the two women, who replied that someone was coming for them.

“They’re not coming,” Thera said, explaining that they had been listening to a scanner.

Still, two women going to a stranger’s house seemed daunting, Saiz said, and their nervousness made them a bit hesitant. Then they saw other vehicles emptying out their occupants that were going to the house, so Saiz and Argoe decided to join them.

That Lockport Road couple, Pavel and Thera, offered refuge for 11 people, all of who stayed with them Friday evening throughout Saturday and that night.

There was the couple from Pennsylvania, just 30 minutes away from a cousin they were going to see; newlyweds from Delaware heading to Toronto; and another couple from Dallas, Texas. There was a single man from Spencerport, not even wearing warm clothing or snow boots in lieu of slipper socks, who was trying to get to The Rez. He would have surely frozen to death out there, Saiz said.

They all made the best of it and took in the host’s generous offerings of food, drink and bedding, Saiz said.

“They gave us water, offered us food, I think we were all just a little in shock and grateful to be alive at this point,” she said.

Eventually, firefighters — who were making rescues throughout the weekend and battling the same blinding snow conditions themselves — made it to the house and said they’d return to take people to Oakfield Fire Hall.

They offered to take the stranded travelers’ keys and move their vehicles to Oakfield-Alabama school’s parking lot, which had just been plowed. All of the visitors opted to do that, except for the one woman who remained in her car with her dog.

No one ended up returning that night, and the visitors stayed put. 

Welcomed reprieve

By Sunday morning, the sky was blue, and the roads seemed clear. But no one had returned with the car keys, Saiz said, so they waited some more.

She had inadvertently left her medication in the car and, after another long period of time, called dispatch again, saying that she really needed her meds.

When Genesee County Sheriff’s Deputy Robert Henning showed up, he was a great help, she said.

“He was amazing; he got us to our car, and he cleaned off the windshields for us,” she said.

“I got home at 5 p.m. Sunday,” she said. “My family waited to have Christmas with me. It was quite the experience.

“When I walked into my home and got upstairs, I just wept uncontrollably and sobbed, holding my children, my husband, so incredibly thankful. I'm emotional, just talking about it,” she said. “I've never, ever felt that I might not make it home. I've never been in a situation where I felt that I actually thought I might die. And I felt that way in the car.

“These people were angels and a godsend for bringing us in and feeding us and providing bedding … we had places to sleep. And it was amazing and a miracle. They're good people, and I'm so appreciative, and my family is appreciative of what this couple did,” she said.

Submitted Photo of Thera Sanchez, back row left, and Pavel Belov, back row, right, with Angela Saiz, to the right of Thera, and Stephanie Argoe in front of her holding a dog, along with the other travelers that got a rescue from the Oakfield couple this past weekend.

December 29, 2022 - 7:30am

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Tow truck operators don't get a lot of media attention.  They show up at an accident scene and might get in a few news photos as they hook up disabled vehicles to haul away, but they never get credit for helping to clear the roadway so traffic can flow again.

During Winter Storm Elliott, the county's tow truck operators were as essential as anybody else in getting people back on the road, and for saving stranded motorists.

And it was hard, hazardous work, some of them told The Batavian during interviews the past couple of days.

"I'm only 27," said Chad Dickinson of Dickinson Auto and Towing in Batavia. "I've never seen anything like this before, these blizzard conditions.  It was very treacherous at times, kind of scary at some points."

For Jacob Gross and Greg Lyons, who were joined in the effort by their boss, Cameron Selapack of L&L Transmission and Towing, there were aspects of the work that were just another day at the office. They found stuck cars and wenched them out and then either watched the owners drive off or brought the cars back to the shop or other safe location for storage.

"We're kind of used to it," Gross said. "But nobody should have been out on those roads. It was quite out of the ordinary."

It was bizarre at times, said Steve Grice, towing operations manager at Dan's Tire.

There were drivers in sandals, drivers with no phones, drivers who left the house with no charger and only a 20 percent charge on their phones, drivers low on gas, and drivers who put getting from one place to another a higher priority than themselves or their families, he said.

"I came across one guy, and I said, 'Sir, I'm gonna get you guys out because you are trapped in your vehicle, but why aren't you home with your family?" Grice recalled. "He said, 'Well, we need to get to the Christmas party.' I said, 'Your lives are at stake here. You need to get home.' And his wife leaned over, and she goes, 'thank you.' We pulled them out, and they went on their way."

Grice encountered a lot of people from Canada, such as the family in the story above, as well as other states.  As has been noted by county officials, most of these people wound up on Genesee County's backcountry roads because the Thruway closed, and they were following GPS maps.

"You wouldn't believe the number of people who said, 'Well, Siri said to go this way,'" Grice said. "I don't think Siri knows what's going on inside your car, you know? I mean, it's like you've got to look at the weather. You've got to know where you're going."

Gross and Lyons said they were surprised by how many people were out on the roads in the midst of a travel ban.

"We're hooking somebody up, and people continue driving by trying to get from Point A to Point B or wherever they were going, even though there was a travel ban," Lyons said.

"We even saw people out walking," Gross added.

You know things are bad when tow truck operators got stuck, and that's what happened to Grice and a member of his team on Friday.  

The Thruway Authority had asked Dan's to send a truck eastbound to check on some vehicles because they couldn't be reached from the west.  When the driver was ready to return to Batavia, he got stuck, so Grice drove out to retrieve him. He became stuck. They were out there until 10 the next morning until a truck from the Thruway authority helped them get moving again.

Grice said he had a lot of sympathy for the people who got stranded in their vehicles, and there was no way for search and rescue teams to get to them for hours.

"It was mentally just exhausting," Grice said. "And just sitting there thinking about the other people that were trapped out there and how people couldn't get to them. It was just a feeling of helplessness that was just overwhelming, you know, and it just was terrible."

Dan's ran three trucks with five crew members on Friday night, and when things cleared a bit on Friday, they had five trucks out.

Dickinson had four flatbeds and two wreckers running.

L&L had three trucks out.

The Batavian didn't have time to reach out to the other tow truck companies in the county, but they were all involved in vehicle recovery efforts throughout the event.

Winter Storm Elliott is a couple of days of work Grice said he won't soon forget.

"It was amazing," he said. "Some of the cars we pulled out, you open the hood and the engine bays were just packed. They looked like big ice cubes in there. It was just amazing. With some of the cars, the snow had gotten in around the door jams and filled them with snow. It was quite a sight to be seen."

Gross and Lyons won't forget it, either.

"Nothing compares to this one," Gross said. "This one was kind of crazy."

All photos courtesy Steve Grice/Dan's Tire.

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December 29, 2022 - 7:00am
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oakfield, Alabama, news, weather, Winter Storm Elliott.

Heading out on one of his search and rescue missions during the blizzard on Friday, Joshua Finn said he had two fears.

That they would find somebody dead in a car.  

Or that he wouldn't make it home, himself.

He came close to both tragic outcomes, he thought, around 1 a.m. on Saturday when he and another volunteer firefighter from Oakfield came across a pickup truck stuck on Judge Road. Its flashers were barely flashing, so he knew it had been there a long time. The battery was nearly dead.  Inside, they found a 60-year-old man and his 27-year-old daughter.

"They were both hypothermic, and they were completely saturated," Finn said. "The snow was blowing through the cracks in the vehicle."

With great effort, Finn, another EMT and other volunteers got them out of the pickup and into a rescue truck and started the drive back to the Oakfield Fire Hall. It was a scary trip, he said. They weren't sure they would make it back in zero visibility conditions.

"Colin and I couldn't get the interior dome lights to shut off because the door button was frozen," Finn said. "We couldn't see much because there was a light inside the cab. We had to have the windows down to look out the windows to drive. Colin says, 'Finn, go left, Finn, go right,' and we're going at one mile an hour. I got frost nip on my ears from because all I had was my firefighting hood. I was shivering by the time we got back with them."

Miraculously -- County Manager Matt Landers has called it a Christmas miracle -- there are no known fatalities in Genesee County as a result of Winter Storm Elliott, which hit the area with a ferocity unknown since 1977.

A perfect storm
The dangers of the storm were exacerbated by a Thruway Authority that shut down the I-90 with no plan to send travelers on safe routes and with Google and Apple map technology ill-equipped to warn drivers of dangerous weather conditions and send them on routes that would take them around the hazardous roads. 

Landers observed during the storm that in a situation that might have otherwise involved a handful of local people getting trapped on snow-covered roads, there were hundreds of cars that got stuck.

More than 700 people, most of them not from New York, wound up in one of 11 warming centers, and it's unclear how many others were taken in by residents who opened their doors when strangers came knocking during the storm.

The task of rescuing motorists fell to quickly assembled teams of deputies, highway crews, and volunteer firefighters.

And with winds over 35 mph and temperatures well below zero, and a forecast of storm conditions persisting for at least 48 hours, search and rescue teams didn't have the luxury of waiting until daylight or until the weather cleared.  They had to head out in the dead of night with the resources available.

Gary Patnode is both the deputy emergency management coordinator for Genesee County and the Chief of the Alabama Volunteer Fire Department.  He was right in the thick of it when the storm hit.

He praised dispatchers for helping triage stranded motorists.

Those with full gas tanks were told to keep their engines running and wait unless they could see a house nearby they could safely get to.  When they had less than a quarter tank of gas or a medical condition, they became a priority to rescue.

Among the medical conditions being reported -- "trouble breathing." 

Patnode found that understandable. You're out there not knowing how, when, or if you will be rescued.

"I think that was a direct result of anxiety, you know, from being in an unfamiliar area, it's pitch black out because there are no streetlights out there, and that snow is blowing," Patnode said.

"Every car, every window that we cleaned off, I just held my breath, you know, hoping that I didn't find a body in there," Patnode said. "That was the big thing."

It takes a village
While the brunt of the storm fell on Oakfield and Alabama, and volunteer departments in those communities had a total of more than 30 volunteers participate in search and rescue operations, nearly every department in the county sent either personnel or equipment, and usually both, such as Le Roy, Alexander, and Bethany, to the northwest quadrant to help out, along with Genesee Snopackers.

On the paid side of responders, there were Sheriff's deputies, personnel from Orleans and Livingston counties, State Police, State Parks, the Department of Environmental Conservation, and Batavia city police and fire departments.

In Oakfield and Alabama, community residents also pitched in, either by offering shelter, delivering supplies, moving snow, or cooking meals. The Oakfield Fire Hall became a warming shelter and housed several dozen people during the storm. There were so many travelers emotionally affected by the storm and being stranded that Downing took their phone numbers to follow up with them after they returned to their homes.

"We are still contacting them to find out how they're doing and that they're okay, you know, checking on their mental health," Downing said. "It's traumatizing for a lot of these people to be stranded and then have to be rescued. We want to make sure that they're okay."

During the weekend, stranded travelers also needed to be fed, so the community fed them.  One firefighter's wife baked her Christmas ham and brought it in.  Wives and girlfriends showed up to make breakfast.  Meals and supplies were delivered from Batavia. H.P. Hood donated dairy products. 

At one point, Oakfield Fire Chief Sean Downing was worried about being able to feed all these people for a couple of days and soon, he realized the community was taking care of it.

When Downing had to get home to check on his wife, Jeremy Yasses plowed his driveway so he could park.  Another community resident made sure the driveways of other volunteers were cleared so they could easily drop in and check on their families.

"People would come up to us and go, 'Oh, if I could just brush my teeth,'" Downing recalled. "then William Sturgeon thought to himself, he says, 'You know what, I have kids. We go to the dentist and they always give us toothpaste and toothbrushes, and dental floss,' so he ran home, which wasn't far from the Fire Hall, and came back with about 20 toothbrushes and the people were ecstatic that they could at least brush their teeth."

It's the little things, Downing said, that make a big difference.

"They say that it takes a village," said Downing.  "Well, it's more than the village. It was the entire town and village of Oakfield that was calling and coming together and getting us whatever we needed to be able to take care of these people. They understood what was going on and what we were going through, and they wanted to make sure that any little bit that they could do, they did."

The department had hosted a Christmas party for its members a couple of days before the storm, and there were still wrapped presents for children under the tree, so the kids at the shelter had Christmas presents to open.

Saving lives
The children were kept in the department's second-floor rec room. Downing wanted to shield them from any potential life-saving situations in the main bay of the fire hall.

"I think we had a total of three or four hypothermic patients throughout the event," Downing said. "The one gentleman that Josh was talking about was our first patient, and the medics came up to me at one time and said, 'We do not think, based on what we're seeing on the monitors and whatnot, and what we're talking about, he may not make it. But again, he pulled through. Once he warmed up, everything started to change for him. He was one of our first patients in the building, and he was the last one to leave our building after the event."

To treat hypothermic patients in a field-hospital situation, medics stripped them of all their cold, wet clothes and wrapped them in blankets.  A couple of firefighters' wives kept supplying warm blankets from the department's clothes dryer. 

Finn doesn't remember where he had seen it done before or where he got the idea from, but he suggested taking hand-warming packets and taping them to IV bags, so the fluid being given to patients was warmed.

While there were "official" warming shelters at fire halls -- such as Indian Falls, besides Oakfield, and schools, such as Elba -- there were several unofficial warming shelters, such as Alabama Hotel.  Grace Baptist Church in Batavia also opened as a warming shelter. Patnode listed off five or six homes that took in six, seven, and eight stranded travelers and one resident on Macomber Road had at least 50 people sheltering in his garage. 

"It was just remarkable how the community came together," Patnode said. "You know, even for us as an organization, when you're working with a volunteer fire department, there are so many different personalities, and everybody just sets that stuff aside and just works together."


See also: Stranded travelers offered a warm home and holiday hospitality by Oakfield couple


Gratitude
There was no shortage of gratitude among the travelers who were rescued. 

Downing noted that many of the department's guests pitched in and helped, cleaning up, shoveling snow, moving supplies as needed.

The boldest gesture of gratitude perhaps came from the first woman Finn rescued.

On Friday, as the storm began to roll in, he decided he couldn't stay at his job in Batavia. He had to get home to his family and his community.

As he drove toward Oakfield, he heard a call for a stuck vehicle with a woman finding it difficult to breathe.  He told dispatchers to keep the ambulance in Batavia, where it couldn't get stuck, while he checked it out.

He found a woman from Canada, with her daughter, having a panic attack.

He told her not to worry.  He told her to follow him to Oakfield, where there was a warming shelter.

He said the drive on Route 63 was difficult. The whiteout conditions were disorienting, and at one point, he went off the road and became stuck in a ditch himself.  

"You didn't know what was up or down," Finn said. "At one point, I was going two miles an hour, and I ended up in a ditch. The only reason why I got out, and it's no joke, I swear to God, I think what saved my life was a deputy named Richard Schildwaster came along with his truck and got me out."

When they got to the hall, the woman from Canada wanted to thank Finn in a big way. She offered him a piece of jewelry.

"She kept saying you saved my life," Finn said. "You guys, you saved my life. She tried to give me this 24-karat gold ring and put it in my hand and would not take it back and I'm like, 'I can't. I can't. This is what we do. I'm not taking your ring.'

"She was, 'you have to.' I'm like, 'It's okay. I didn't do anything. I just had you follow me.' I'm like, 'I can't take this from you.' And she's like, 'You have to.'

"So I dialed my wife. I said, 'talk to my wife' because my wife was not happy that I left Batavia to come to Oakfield, and I didn't tell her what I was doing until I got to the village, and I said, 'I'm in Oakfield. Don't be mad.' So I was like, 'Here, talk to my wife.'

"I don't even know what conversation they had, but it settled down my wife."

Submitted photos.  Top photo: Justin Cooper, Tera Williams, Joshua Finn, Chief Sean Downing, Assistant Chief Chad Williams, Buck Hilchey

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Near whiteout conditions outside Alabama Hotel.

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Sheriff's patrols and the Snopacker's groomer clearing roads and checking vehicles along the roadway. Oakfield Chief Sean Downing noted that one convoy that started out on South Pearl in Oakfield during the height of the blizzard Saturday morning took five hours to reach the Indian Falls Fire Hall.

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A Mercy EMS ambulance broke down in Oakfield at the start of the storm, stranding its medics, which turned out to be a blessing for the warming shelter at the Fire Hall, with trained medical personnel on hand during the storm event.

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Josh Finn and K-9 Frankie in a search and rescue convoy.  Finn and another medic joined the convoys so that if somebody needed medical attention, there was somebody on scene with the training to provide an evaluation.

December 28, 2022 - 5:55pm
posted by Press Release in news, weather, Winter Storm Elliott, genesee county.

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Press release from Genesee County:

Over the Christmas weekend, our community was ravaged by a historic blizzard that challenged locals with lake effect snow, strong wind and wind chills from -10 to -25 degrees.

Holiday travelers from near and far found their vehicles in ditches, snow banks or in the driveway of a stranger. Essential services provided by the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office, the Genesee County Emergency Dispatcher Center, Genesee County Emergency Management Services, and the Genesee County Highway Department were at the ready to ensure all travelers were protected and safe.

Genesee County Sheriff William A. Sheron, Jr. was incredibly grateful and proud.

“Thank God for the dedicated first responders of Genesee County," Sheron said. "Undoubtedly, dozens of lives were saved due to the heroic actions of all of our first responders who put their lives on the line during this historic blizzard of 2022. They worked around the clock, days on end, answering and responding to 9-1-1 calls to ensure that our community was safe and no one’s loved one became a statistic.”

Sheriff Sheron went on to say, “I am extremely proud of the men and women of the Genesee County Sheriff’s Office along with all Genesee County’s agencies and volunteer fire services. These are dedicated, passionate residents that give everything to their community. There’s truth to the saying, ‘When bad things happen, first responders are there, 24/7, through all types of weather and circumstances; no questions asked.’

"Should you see a first responder, please take the opportunity to thank them for their unwavering dedication," Sheron added. I would also like to thank all the community members that stepped up and provided safe warming shelters for hundreds of individuals that were stranded by the storm. To those businesses and individuals that dropped off food and bottled water, you provided much-needed supplies for our employees that hadn’t eaten in several hours. Thank you all!”

Tim Yaeger, Genesee County Emergency Management Services Coordinator, called attention to the importance of first responders in our community. 

“It was an extremely stressful and dangerous event for the dispatchers, law enforcement, fire and Emergency Medical Services," Yaeger said. "The dispatchers had far more calls for help than available resources. Law enforcement and fire service would not give up or stop until every person was accounted for. They are all heroes in my book! They risked their lives for over 24 hours to rescue every person. Community leaders, individuals and business owners demonstrated generosity, blind trust and compassion by opening their homes, businesses, and warming shelters to ensure 700 travelers were out of harm’s way. Volunteer fire and EMS, church, and local businesses spent three days away from their families to care for complete strangers. The stories of compassion and dedication to never stop helping others in need of rescue is what makes the first responders of Genesee County our most cherished resource.”

Genesee County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens was astonished by the heroism he experienced.

“I'm struck by the commitment, dedication, loyalty, and humanity of all of the rescuers," Hens said. "Whether paid professionals or volunteers, people literally putting their lives at risk over and over to save mostly people they've never met and will most likely never see again.

"It was frustrating to not make progress at times," he added, "getting turned back over and over by impassible roads, insurmountable drifts, but everyone was trying to make a difference. No one gave up, they just tried another route. People opened their houses. People opened their businesses. Everyone worked together even though it was confusing and stressful. ”

Genesee County Manager Matt Landers wanted to recognize the people of this community and county officials who helped navigate this storm.

“There are so many people to thank from the community that stepped under difficult circumstances to save lives," Landers said. "First, I want to recognize and thank Sheriff Sheron, Tim Yaeger and Tim Hens for their leadership during the storm. Each of their respective operations played critical roles throughout the storm, and the way in which all three operations worked together was impressive. Next, I want to thank all of the law enforcement professionals, first responders, dispatchers, volunteer firefighters and snow plow operators that all worked tirelessly to save lives.”

He went on to say, “Thank you to all of the local and surrounding municipalities that helped with resources, equipment and manpower, including the City of Batavia, Orleans County and Livingston County. While there are so many people that stepped up to help, it’s impossible to list them all by name. However, I want to give a special shout-out to Nate Fix, Tony Johnston and members of the Genesee SnoPackers organization that came out with their ‘Tucker’ vehicle, which proved to be instrumental in saving lives by reaching people that other vehicles couldn’t get to.

"Thank you to the volunteers at the various warming shelters," he added, "the people who opened up their homes to strangers and the people that opened up their kitchens and cupboards with donated food for those stranded. While this storm will be remembered for the impressive winds and snowfall, I will always remember this storm by the bravery exhibited and the community coming together to care for one another. I am so proud to say I am from Genesee County!”

Shelley Stein, Chair of the Genesee County Legislature, could not be more thankful for her community.

“Bravery, courage, dedication, and compassion - all characteristics demonstrated by our community members, volunteers, and leaders during this past weekend," Stein said. "Genesee County is well known for our cooperative spirit and creativity in getting the work accomplished together. Our community, once again, jumped into action and shared their skills and talents to save lives and provide comfort to many. Our volunteer fire service members are our backbone of public safety in events like Storm Elliott. Untold hours, risks, and determination prevented deaths in our county. THANK YOU, simple and sincere from a grateful Genesee County Community.” 

Submitted photos.

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December 28, 2022 - 8:06am
posted by Joanne Beck in weather, Winter Storm Elliott, news.

Peoplle who donated during Storm Elliott:

Person

Contribution
Batavia’s Original 3 Assorted Subs, 2Fried Dough, 3 Turkey Subs, 4 Sodas
Marianne Clattenburg Full-baked ham and a tray of scalloped potatoes
Rachael Tabelski Roast Beef and Rolls and Fritos
Mike Ficarella Chili
The Patterson's Bags of Food 
City Church Food, canned goods 
Alice Ann Benedict Tuna Casserole, Ziti, Christmas Danish, Fruits, 
Craig Huntoon/Chance Alexyn Chicken Gnocchi Soup, Goulash, Pie, Blankets
Carrie Lawrence Quiche and Ziti
Matt Landers Multiple Donations
Tops Food for 100 People
Marion Radley Goulash
Amanda Radley Casserole, Cereal Bars
Holly Sharpe Ziti and Meatballs
Settler's Restaurant 2 Mac and Cheese Trays, salads 
Erik Fix Food from Save-A-Lot
Emily Benedict Mac and Cheese, Meatballs, Bread
Danielle Heubusch Soups, Pasta, Biscuits 

 

People that Matt and Melissa Landers reached out to that donated food:

Linda Toal Slow cooker full goulash
Marianne Clattenburg Full baked ham and tray of scalloped potatoes, and loaf of bread
Emily and Greg Branche Tray of pasta
Gina O'Donnell Various food
Cindy DeCarlo Beef vegetable soup and grilled cheese sandwiches
Danielle Fleming Various food
Mike and Sharon Burns 4 cases of water
Allison Chua Baked goods and other food
Jamie Mott Dish of pasta
Jim and Nickie Fazio Various food
Kristina and Aaron Clark Ham and pasta
DiRisio Family Mac and Cheese
Alecia Kaus Bags of various ready to eat foods and soda
Lynda Kelso Two bowls of hot food 
Ricupito Family Casserole
Cindy and Ron Konieczny Sheet pizzas sent to Dispatch from Batavia's Original
Carla Wahls Various food
Joyce Jones Sent a pizza and pop to fire department from Batavia's Original
Brian and Erika Mruczek Sent a bunch of subs and fried dough to fire department from Batavia's Original
Michelle Falleti Sent a pizza and other food to fire department from Batavia's Original
Peter Casey Tray of pasta
John Spryopoulos (Settlers) 4 full pans of mac and cheese, 2 full pans of alfredo, 3 pans of salad, 2 ranch, 2 blue cheese, 2 half pans of rice, 2 half pans of beef tips, 2 half pans of chicken and biscuits and 2 half pnas of jambalaya
Matt & Melissa Landers LOL, we were supposed to travel for holidays so we didn't have much to cook, so we gave 2 12 packs of lipton green tea.  Melissa was handling the calls, Katie Landers was my sidekick and we spent our time driving around

 

December 28, 2022 - 8:05am
posted by Joanne Beck in news, Winter Storm Elliott, batavia, genesee county, weather.

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As city and county officials tallied the weekend’s figures — numbers of staff on overtime duty, and total costs for manpower, equipment and related expenses — their gratitude for community support will extend to federal aid as well now that FEMA has announced financial assistance for New York State, and in particular, Genesee County.

Declaration should mean federal help
“There's a process that FEMA takes based on filing the emergency declaration that allows us to expend funds to deal with life safety, whether it's infrastructure, or housing and rescuing people, and then they'll evaluate damages, and overall cost affiliated with the storm,” County Emergency Management Services Director Tim Yeager said Tuesday. “And then they'll look at a declaration that will allow for reimbursement of expenses. So it takes about two weeks. Because then the data and the costs are accumulated and then sent to the state, they gather that and then send it to FEMA, and then they make a decision based on matrixes that they have on thresholds of cost. They're going to pay, typically, the federal reimbursement rate of 75 percent of the cost.”

That remaining 25 percent is sometimes paid by the state, he said, or it would go to the local municipality.

Both city and county management are still in the accounting phase of determining final numbers and associated costs of Winter Storm Elliott.

“At this time, there is not a complete accounting of the OT that was expended due to the storm, but we will be finalizing the reporting and submitting it to the County as part of their storm disaster relief accounting and potential FEMA reimbursement," City Manager Rachael Tabelski said Tuesday.

What goes into the accounting? 
City of Batavia personnel, including the Public Works, Water Plant, Wastewater Plant, Police and Fire departments, “stepped up during the storm to ensure that the city remained passable,” Tabelski said. All departments continued to operate and assist the county staff with storm response throughout the Christmas weekend, she said.

Some staff members spent the night at the Water and Wastewater Plant to ensure continuity of operations. The Police Emergency Response Team was called in Friday and Saturday to help with search and rescue with the city’s MRAP, she said. An acronym bandied about lately -- an MRAP is a military light tactical (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected) vehicle that’s as heavy-duty and dependable as it sounds.    

The city’s Fire Station became a makeshift central distribution point for food, water, and supplies for those stranded or displaced by the storm, and firefighters and city staff worked to get supplies out to the 11 warming shelters throughout the county, including one at Grace Baptist Church in Batavia. 

"The City of Batavia workforce is a dedicated group of people who show up and get the job done, day in and day out,” Tabelski said. “And I am very proud to get to work with such a great group of individuals.”

Substantial overtime
County Manager Matt Landers, likewise, did not have specific numbers, adding that “it is hard to quantify how many staff actually participated” and thought he could pull together something more definite in the next day or two. “We are still calculating the OT,” he said Monday night, but he knows that it was “certainly substantial.”

He planned to submit a claim once the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) declared the storm a federal emergency, which it did on Tuesday.

“I would essentially say that everyone in the Sheriff's road patrol, every dispatcher, everyone in the Sheriff's Administration, all of Emergency Management, Highway Administration, all county plow operators” were involved, he said. “The community response to this storm was nothing short of amazing. So many people stepped up to help in so many different ways.  The heroic efforts by our law enforcement, volunteer and professional firefighters, first responders, dispatchers and snow plow operators undoubtedly saved lives.

“In addition to these brave individuals saving lives, it was wonderful to see the rest of the community step up by sheltering stranded individuals, whether it was at a warming center or people that opened their personal homes up to stranded motorists,” he said. “The outpouring of food and supplies from the community to those in need was wonderful to witness!”

The weekend — which began early on Friday and built into a full-blown, three-day disaster management exercise — had affected not only hundreds of motorists diverted off the Thruway, but also those in command of alleviating the storm’s effects.

A scary Disney ride
“The experience for me was like a roller coaster, with fears of having stranded motorists in our county succumb to the elements to the amazing news that our first responders had cleared all of the vehicles with no fatalities.  I was in constant communication with our Sheriff, Highway Superintendent and Emergency Management Coordinator, keeping up to date on how the storm was tracking and how the road conditions were deteriorating,” Landers said. “Their advice, plus the input of county departments that care for our vulnerable populations, along with discussions with the city manager and chair of our Legislature, made my decision to close county offices for Friday the clear choice.”

Close communication with those people also helped him to make another decision, to implement a countywide State of Emergency and travel ban, he said. Along with the hard work came amazing stories, he said, of everyday people stepping up with heroic actions to help save lives. 

“I hope many of these stories get out in the press in the following days so the rest of the county can learn about the heroes walking among them,” he said.

Tabelski had a “very good idea” of how to organize the food and get it delivered to the shelters and emergency responders, while Landers and his wife Melissa reached out to friends and colleagues in Batavia to appeal for donations. Landers and his daughter Katie then drove around picking up the many homemade dishes and snack and beverage items.

“I still have to get these dishes back to the families that donated, which will hopefully happen in the next couple of days, but I am sure some won't make it back.  It was nice to see over 20 people that we had messaged step up and donate food items,” he said. “I want to give a huge shout-out to John Spryopoulos from Settlers Restaurant, who donated seven full pans of food and eight half pans of food.  He opened up his kitchen with a couple of helpers Saturday morning and had the food ready by early afternoon.”

Recovery here, ongoing rescues a county over
Yaeger took a few minutes to look back and appreciate all of the efforts that went into weekend rescues, though his work was not quite done. The last of the stranded motorists emptied out of warming shelters by 9 p.m. Monday, he said, and they were back on their way home — whether directly by a vehicle on side roads due to a still closed Thruway, or after checking into a local hotel to get more rest before their trip.

He, on the other hand, was still in full rescue mode, helping to coordinate vehicles — MRAPs borrowed from Orleans and Livingston counties and utility task vehicles (UTVs) — for arrival in Erie County. Many of those vehicles were needed to transport patients ready for check-out at hospitals so that additional patients could be treated, Yaeger said.

As one of the many folks in this area to know about the infamous blizzard of 45 years ago, this latest one tops everything so far, he said.

"I think the onset was far faster than I think anyone expected it to be. And I think it was just typically the lake effect snow does not set up over Genesee County for that extended period of time. Basically, the heaviest lake effect was in that northwest quadrant, west side of the county. Pretty much the whole west side of the county that was the kind of that heavy, heavy, heavy snow and wind, and that's what caused all those problems,” he said. “I've never experienced that type of snow event and wind event. I mean, obviously I was a child when Blizzard of ’77 occurred. And that was a different dynamic because of the snow buildup on Lake Erie. We didn't have that to deal with. We just have heavy, heavy lake effect and the strong winds causing the low visibility, and then the people just can't clean the roads fast enough.”

He was a central point of operations and also walked the walk, joining a team on the roads Saturday night. Danger aside, “there wasn’t a lot of convincing needed,” he said about the responders eager to help out. They all agreed with similar sentiment that “we should not be out there," he said, and yet they all went.

“The internal fortitude of the first responders, both law enforcement, fire and EMS, not to give up and, they just keep pushing and pushing, and we obviously brought in more resources, but that took time to get those resources here,” Yaeger said. “But when you're in the storm, you're risking, obviously, their lives … risking the lives of the first responders out there. So, there'll be conversations, what do we do better? I know, from the state level, down to the local level, how can we do a better job of keeping cars off the road? They had plenty of warning, I can assure you that everyone knew it was coming.”

Lessons and thankfulness in hindsight
Landers also said that there will be a countywide discussion about learning from hindsight and preparing as much as possible for any future Elliotts that may blow into town. Tucked into the questions and concerns has been an element of gratitude for what Yaeger described as a “heroic effort that I witnessed” during at least a continuous 48 hours of responding to a nature-inspired emergency.

“All the way from the dispatchers to tow truck operators, and snow removal, highway workers and the volunteer fire and law enforcement of both Sheriff's Office, State Police, city PD, just never stopping until everyone they knew everyone was safe,” Yaeger said. “And it was absolutely, when you talk about heroes, those guys are heroes, and girls. Absolutely heroic effort, and then the sheltering of the public and the municipal leaders and businesses locally, from the churches, to schools to private restaurants, private residences.

“They just opened their doors and let complete strangers in,” he said. “It’s just absolutely amazing.”

Tabelski provided an updated donor list that was part of the “hundreds of volunteers in the city and across the county (that) stepped up to assist during this storm.” To view, see HERE

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Top Photo: If you cannot see this scene very clearly, that's exactly what it was like for motorists on Friday and Saturday in the western part of Genesee County. Photo by Steve Grice. Above, a safer view of the cleared road, properties and an oncoming car Tuesday after massive cleanup efforts took place during the weekend. Photo by Howard Owens.

December 27, 2022 - 7:31pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in Oakfield, Alabama, news, weather, Winter Storm Elliott.

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The Batavian was out in Oakfield and Alabama today for follow-up stories for Winter Storm Elliott (watch for more coverage over the next day or so) and we stopped a few times for storm-related photos along Judge Road (Route 63).

Above, a snow-covered residence at Judge and Wight roads, Alabama.

Photos by Howard Owens.

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December 27, 2022 - 5:56pm
posted by Joanne Beck in news, U of R Medical Center, batavia, weather.

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Frozen pipes that ended up bursting and spilling water at the newly built University of Rochester Medical Center are being repaired; however, the site will not be open this week for patients, Kim Hally-Hettrick says.

Multiple pipes were involved, causing a lot of water to flood the building at 7995 Call Parkway, Batavia. Bitterly cold temperatures caused the freezing pipes, a condition reported by business and residential folks this past weekend.

Patients will be redirected to offices in Le Roy, Brockport and Brighton, Hally-Hettrick said.

“They’re researching what caused that to happen,” she said to The Batavian Tuesday. “The floor was 90 percent covered with water, but it was mostly floor damage and not the walls.”

To keep patients safe, the walls are also being checked out to ensure there is no water seepage or related damage before reopening the center, she said. Project management firm Gallina Development Corporation has been working on the repair and research and has been “very helpful” in the effort, she said.

The situation is being evaluated for when the doors will open again for patients, and it is recommended that they call their respective doctors to reschedule appointments. Practices include Primary Care 585-345-1779; Allergy and Immunology 585-486-0930; Medical Oncology 585-602-4050; Neurosurgery 585-225-5767; Otolaryngology and Audiology 585-758-570; and Urology 585-275-2838.

Photo: File photo by Howard Owens

December 27, 2022 - 5:25pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in elba, news, weather.

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Photo by Kristin Smith

December 26, 2022 - 3:35pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in pembroke, Flying J, news, weather, Winter Storm Elliott.

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Amber M. King of Rochester was quite impressed by how well the management of Dennys at the Flying J in Pembroke treated stranded motorist during the blizzard on Friday and Saturday.

"I was stranded there for two days after trying to get back to Rochester," she told The Batavian in an email. "There were more than 150 people sitting inside at any given time from New Hampshire, Nova Scotia, Toronto,  Queens, Pennsylvania and many other locations. They provided us with a place to eat, stay warm, to close our eyes for a bit or use the bathroom.

"The staff at both places busted their butts to help in any way they could, but mostly to keep us safe."

She said many in the group tried to repay the kindness by helping with dishes, clearing tables, taking out trash and keeping the coffee flowing.

"I'm grateful to them all; many of us are," she said.

She sent us the info so the staff could receive a public "thank you." 

"A few of their names are Juanita, Jenni, Johnny from Denny's and Todd at the Flying J, Nikki and all the other crew," she said. "They kept the pumps cleared so we could always get gas to keep cars running so we could sleep. The sidewalks cleared so we could get in and out. They were even pet-friendly so the doggies wouldn't freeze. There were maybe 10 employees running the whole place, and they did a great job."

Submitted photos.

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December 26, 2022 - 3:15pm
posted by Howard B. Owens in weather, news, Alabama, Winter Storm Elliott.

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Snow scene photos from Alabama by Kristen Smith

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