(New York) “It’s not the Christmas we wanted”: a winter storm, carrying icy winds and sweeping the central and eastern United States for days, caused more than twenty dead and left tens of thousands of Americans without power on Christmas Day.
Erie County, located in New York State and which includes the city of Buffalo, was particularly hard hit, with piles of accumulated snow reaching up to three meters high in places.
At least seven people died there due to the storm, county official Mark Poloncarz said Sunday at a press conference. Some were found in cars and others on the street in the middle of the snow.
Since Wednesday evening, the United States has been hit by this storm of rare intensity, whose polar winds have caused heavy snowfall, especially in the Great Lakes region.
US authorities have confirmed a total of at least 26 deaths related to these extreme weather conditions across nine states. Some of these deaths occurred on the roads, which have become very dangerous due to icy conditions and poor visibility.
“It’s not the Christmas we wanted,” said Mr. Poloncarz, who fears that other deaths will soon be counted in Erie County.
“There are people stuck in their cars for more than two days and others in homes with freezing temperatures,” he warned.
A travel ban was imposed in this region on Friday but hundreds of people still found themselves stranded in their vehicles.
The relief went from car to car on Sunday to see “if they found any bodies”, described Mark Poloncarz on CNN.
“This is a major crisis,” acknowledged New York State Governor Kathy Hochul, a native of Buffalo, who deployed the National Guard.
“I’ve had every major winter storm in the last 60 years,” she said. “This is the worst. »
Electricity will not be fully restored in Buffalo until Monday, Poloncarz warned, calling on residents not to leave their homes as the roads remain impassable.
Between 30 and 60 cm of snow were still expected to fall overnight, according to the latest bulletin from the US Weather Service (NWS).
“The winds are so strong” that the snow forms like “sand dunes”, it’s “crazy”, described Saturday to AFP Ali Lawson, 34, who has lived in Buffalo for eight years.
More than 150,000 homes were still without power on Sunday on the East Coast, according to the Poweroutage.us site, notably in Maine and New York State.
Risk of hypothermia
Temperatures should, however, return to “seasonal normal by the middle of next week”, according to the NWS.
Air traffic was gradually improving with nearly 1,800 flights canceled on Sunday, against more than 3,400 the day before, according to the monitoring site Flightaware.com.
“The most extreme disruptions are behind us,” US Transportation Minister Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter on Saturday.
A bit everywhere in American cities, such as Denver or Chicago, shelters have been opened to accommodate people in need to allow them to warm up and protect them from the risk of hypothermia.
In El Paso, Texas, desperate migrants from Mexico huddled for warmth in churches, schools and a civic center, teacher and volunteer Rosa Falcon told AFP.
But some chose to stay outside in freezing temperatures because they feared they would come to the attention of immigration authorities, she added.
The storm also affected Canada where a bus accident on a frozen road killed at least four people and several dozen injured in British Columbia, according to authorities.
More than 150,000 people are also without electricity, particularly in Ontario and Quebec.
All trains from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal were suspended on Christmas Day following a train derailment, according to the Canadian Rail Service.