NEW YORK: A fearsome winter storm continued to pummel parts of the United States with blizzard conditions on Saturday evening after powerful Arctic winds left over a million customers without power earlier in the day and caused Christmas travel nightmares.
At least 17 weather-related deaths have been confirmed across eight states as heavy snow, howling winds and dangerously frigid temperatures kept much of the nation, including the normally temperate south, in a frozen grip for a third straight day.
In hard-hit New York state, Governor Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard to Erie County and its main city Buffalo, where authorities said emergency services were not functioning.
Late on Saturday, the National Weather Service warned that blizzard conditions in the Great Lakes region caused by lake-effect snow would continue into Christmas Day, and that there would be “only slow moderation of temperatures into Monday”.
One couple in Buffalo, which sits across the border from Canada, said that with the roads completely impassible, they would not be making a 10-minute drive to see their family for Christmas.
“It’s tough because the conditions are just so bad... a lot of fire departments aren’t even sending out trucks for calls,” said 40-year-old Rebecca Bortolin.
Her fiance Ali Lawson is having back pain, but plans to tough it out at home because driving to the hospital is too dangerous.
“We can currently see across the street, but last night we couldn’t see past our porch,” said Lawson.
The “bomb cyclone” winter storm, one of the fiercest in decades, had already forced the cancellation of over 3,300 US flights on Saturday and the delay of nearly 7,500 more, a day after nearly 6,000 were scrapped, according to tracking website Flightaware.com.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted on Saturday that “the most extreme disruptions are behind us as airline and airport operations gradually recover” — words that travellers stranded at airports including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York were holding on to.
New York City resident Zack Cuyler, whose flight home to Houston on December 22 has been postponed then cancelled twice this week already, was “pretty steamed” about the chaos.
The 35-year-old now hopes to reach his loved ones by December 25. “I’m just glad I’ll get to see my family for Christmas,” he said.
Road ice and white-out conditions also led to the closure of some of the nation’s busiest transport routes, including the cross-country Interstate 70, parts of which were temporarily shut down in Colorado and Kansas.
The National Weather Service warned about lethal conditions and urged residents in affected areas to remain indoors. — AFP