BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — Five people have died during a storm that dumped more than 4 feet of snow around Buffalo and forced motorists in 150 vehicles, including a women’s basketball team, to ride it out on a day when temperatures dropped to freezing or below in all 50 states.
One person was killed in an automobile accident and three others had heart attacks, including two believed to be shoveling snow at the time, Erie County officials said. The fifth victim was found dead inside of a car that was buried in 12 to 15 feet of snow.
The snowstorm stranded cars, trucks and buses on a four-mile section near Buffalo. By late Tuesday night, many — but not all — had been freed.
Some motorists had had been trapped for nearly 24 hours. Officials said freeing the vehicles was delayed after two tractor-trailers jack-knifed as they were being moved.
“It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn’t feel like it was going to end,” Bryce Foreback, 23, of Shicora, Pennsylvania told The Associated Press by cellphone 20 hours into his wait for help. “I haven’t slept in like 30 hours and I’m just waiting to get out of here.”
Members of the Niagara University women’s basketball team were napping on and off 17 hours into their wait. Some got so thirsty they drank melted snow, said Coach Kendra Faustin, who was traveling with her 1-year-old.
Team spokeswoman Chelsea Andorka said the bus, with about 25 players and coaches aboard, was headed back from a loss in Pittsburgh when it came to a halt at 2 a.m. Tuesday.
“We were told the National Guard was coming by but haven’t seen any signs of life,” Andorka said. “The first time they came they told us to be prepared to stay for a while. One tow truck passed six or seven hours ago.”
In a region accustomed to highway-choking snowstorms, this one is being called one of the worst in memory. Snow blown by strong winds forced the closing of a 132-mile stretch of the Thruway, the main highway across New York state.
Meteorologists say temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below on Tuesday. They say the low temperatures were more reminiscent of January than November.
In New Hampshire and elsewhere, icy roads led to accidents. Lake-effect storms in Michigan produced gale-force winds and as much as 18 inches of snow, and canceled several flights at the Grand Rapids airport.
Schools closed in the North Carolina mountains amid blustery winds and ice-coated roads. In Indiana, three firefighters were hurt when a semitrailer hit a fire truck on a snowy highway.
In Atlanta, tourists Morten and Annette Larsen from Copenhagen were caught off-guard by the 30-degree weather as they took photos of a monument to the 1996 summer Olympics at Centennial Olympic Park.
“It’s as cold here as it is in Denmark right now. We didn’t expect that,” Larsen said, waving a hand over his denim jacket, buttoned tightly over a hooded sweatshirt.
In Buffalo, Brian Krzeminski watched the snow pile up outside the south Buffalo convenience store where he worked overnight and served free coffee to the motorists and pedestrians who came in off the city streets to get out of the blinding snow.
“There are people that came out to get a few things. We had some people who came in just to get a 30-pack of beer, which is kind of odd,” he said. “We’ve had EMTs whose ambulance got stuck. I’m constantly seeing cars get stuck.”
The National Weather Service warned that the snow, generated by cold air blowing over the warmer Great Lakes, would continue through Wednesday and could eventually total 6 feet in places. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo deployed 150 member of the National Guard to help clear snow-clogged roads and remove abandoned vehicles.
“We have tried to get out of our house and we are lucky to be able to shovel so we can open the door. Basically, that’s it, open the door,” said Linda Oakley of Buffalo. “We’re just thinking that in case of an emergency we can at least get out the door. We can’t go any further.”
“All around us, it’s a solid 4 feet of snow that is so thick and so heavy you can hardly move it with a shovel,” said Oakley, whose son Todd was with her, unable to make it to work just three miles away.
Jim Lehmann was hunkering down with his wife in their town of Hamburg home, while outside his neighbor’s house was barely visible through the blowing snow.
“The main thing to do now is sit in the house and wait it out,” Lehmann said. “My neighbor works for a satellite dish company and he tried to get out this morning and he got stuck 80 feet down the street. And he was there for three hours.”
The town of West Seneca recorded 45 inches by late morning and Alden, to the east, had 48 inches. But typical of lake-effect snow, areas just a few miles away, including downtown and north Buffalo, had just a couple of inches.
At one point, nearly half of West Seneca’s plows were bogged down in heavy snow, officials told The Buffalo News. In neighboring Orchard Park, the highway superintendent called the rate of snowfall “unbelievable,” while next door in Hamburg police cars were getting stuck.
Oakley and her son, Todd, were passing the time watching “Dumb and Dumber” on Netflix.
“We can’t even walk down to the end of the street and get ourselves a pizza,” she said, laughing. “Maybe if you had snow shoes, I don’t know.”