NEW YORK: The death toll rose to 13 Friday from a killer snowstorm in western New York state where rising temperatures and heavy rain will compound misery by causing severe flooding into next week.
Blizzards dumped a year’s supply of snow in just days south of Buffalo city, bringing down 30 buildings, imperiling mobile homes and paralyzing communities.
Erie County chief executive Mark Poloncarz said 13 people had died and warned that further deaths could not be ruled out as rescue workers continue to dig out vehicles trapped in the snow.
The latest fatalities were two elderly people who died during and immediately after being evacuated from a nursing home, and a 50-year-old man found dead in his vehicle.
The National Weather Service says “lake effect snow,” created when frigid air moves over warm lake waters, remains a risk until noon but that only a few more inches are expected to fall Friday.
New York state Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the state thruway would reopen in parts to essential travel from 3:00 pm but warned against unnecessary journeys as conditions remain perilous.
The improving weather would also allow for the massive snow removal effort to quicken pace, with the National Guard bringing in extra people and the arrival of additional equipment.
Cuomo, who has declared a state of emergency, said he had spoken to the White House on Thursday and said President Barack Obama sent his best wishes and that a full damages assessment could yet prompt a federal disaster declaration.
“It’s a matter of life and death literally,” said Cuomo.
Poloncarz described “Winter Storm Knife” as one of the worst he could remember and said the worst-hit areas had been affected more than during the deadly blizzard of 1977.
“In the areas worst impacted it was worse than 1977 but it did not hit the entire community as did in 1977,” he told reporters.
“Now we have to be prepared for the flooding. There will be flooding in all likelihood starting on Sunday,” he said.
The flood risk will remain until Tuesday with some areas set to receive five to six feet (1.5 to 1.8 meters) of water in a very short period of time, he warned.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said 1,600 trucks have already carted 32,000 tons of snow out of south Buffalo.
“We’re asking people in the areas that may experience flooding to remove items from your basement,” he told a news conference with Cuomo and Poloncarz.
The National Weather Service warned of severe winter driving conditions with very low visibility and deep snow cover on roads.
The state of emergency has forced the National Football League to relocate Sunday’s game between the local Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets from Buffalo to Detroit.