BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — The National Guard went door to door in parts of Buffalo on Wednesday to check on people who had lost power during the area’s deadliest winter storm in decades, and authorities faced the tragic possibility of finding more victims amid melting snow.
As a deep freeze eased into milder weather, the National Guard members were knocking on doors in those neighborhoods in Buffalo and its suburbs, said Mark Poloncarz, the top official in the county that encompasses New York’s second-most-populous city.
“We are fearful that there are individuals who may have perished, living alone, or people who are not doing well,” he said.
Officials said more than 30 people so far have been reported to have died because of the blizzard that raged Friday and Saturday in western New York, an area prone to powerful winter storms. The historic Blizzard of 1977 killed as many as 29.
Antwaine Parker told The Buffalo News that his mother, Carolyn Eubanks, perished at the home of strangers who took her in after her family tried to get help for the ailing woman.
Eubanks, 63, relied on an oxygen machine. With the power out in her home and emergency responders unable to answer calls amid the blizzard, Parker said, he and his stepbrother drove through the snow Saturday to rescue her themselves. She collapsed as they led her to a car, he said.
“She’s like, ‘I can’t go no further.’ I’m begging her, ‘Mom, just stand up.’ She fell in my arms and never spoke another word,” Parker told the newspaper.
The stepbrothers knocked on doors, seeking someone who would help. They found David Purdy, who opened his door to two desperate strangers and helped them carry Eubanks inside and try in vain to revive her.
After they realized she was gone, Purdy and his fiancee sheltered her body until first responders showed up with plows the next day.
“I done it as respectful as I could,” Purdy told The Buffalo News. His own mother is roughly the same age as Eubanks was and also uses an oxygen machine, he said, and “if she needed help, I’d hope there would be people out there to help her, as well.”
Temperatures were expected to rise into the mid-40s (around 7 degrees Celsius) on Wednesday and the low 50s (around 10 Celsius) by Friday, the National Weather Service said.
Buffalo Niagara International Airport, which the storm had closed for days, reopened Wednesday, though the airport’s website listed almost all scheduled flights as canceled or delayed.
With enough snow still on the ground that driving was still banned in Buffalo, officials worked to clear storm drains and watched a forecast that calls for some rain later in the week. Erie County officials said they were preparing for the possibility of some flooding and of ice jams in local creeks.
The weather service said Wednesday that “any flooding is expected to be of the minor or nuisance variety.”
Though suburban roads and most major highways in the area reopened Tuesday, there was still a driving ban in Buffalo, and state and military police were assigned to enforce it. Poloncarz, the Erie County executive and a Democrat, said the goal was to have at least one lane on every street open by Wednesday evening.
A Facebook group originally created in 2014, when Buffalo was buried under deep snow, has become a lifeline, seeking to help thousands seeking food, medicine, shelter and rescue in the latest storm. Currently managed by five women, the group swelled to at least 68,000 people as of Tuesday.
“We are seeing a lot of desperation,” said Erin Aquilinia, founder of the original group, in an online interview.
Erie County Undersheriff William Cooley said deputies were helping people get to crucial medical appointments, such as dialysis.