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National Guard called in to deal with massive snowstorm

Mike Desmond/WBFO News

A state of emergency remains in effect in Erie County and the National Guard is being deployed to the region to deal with a snowstorm that has paralyzed parts of Western New York.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz says the National Guard will help clear snow and remove stranded vehicles so snow plows can get through. Poloncarz says driving bans remain in effect in several communities, including South Buffalo.

"The only people who should be on the streets in these communities are people who are emergency responders," Poloncarz said at a Tuesday news conference.

Poloncarz, late Tuesday, announced there have been four deaths related to the storm. Three people suffered heart attacks  and one person was pinned while pushing a stuck vehicle.

Parts of Western New York, including South Buffalo, have seen more than three feet of snow over the past 24 hours.

A Lake Effect Snow Warning remains in effect until 1 p.m. Wednesday for Erie, Genesee and Wyoming counties. That same warning is in effect until 10 a.m. Wednesday for Chautauqua and Cattaraugus counties.

Another one to two feet of snow are possible Tuesday night for parts of Erie County. Six to 16 inches are possible in parts of Genesee and Wyoming.  Nine to 20 inches could fall in parts of the Southern Tier.

Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency for the affected counties early Tuesday evening, allowing state resources to be mobilized to assist local governments.

"This storm may persist until Friday morning with the potential for another two feet of snow. New Yorkers in these areas should exercise extreme caution, and stay off the roads until conditions are clearer and safer," Cuomo said in a statement. 

Poloncarz says stranded motorists should call 9-1-1 to give police their location. As night begins to fall, he says some motorists may be removed from the vehicles and taken to a shelter.

"The snow has not stopped. It is still anticipated to fall for the next few hours through the night before it shifts to the south. And then, there's the possibility it will shift back north tomorrow," Poloncarz said.

In a conference call with the National Weather Service, the county executive said he was "disappointed" to hear that the storm may last through Friday and some areas could see more than six feet of snow by the time it's over.

Credit Chris Caya/WBFO News
County Executive Mark Poloncarz said the storm cut like a knife through the heart of Erie County.

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown says this is a "tale of two cities," one buried in the white stuff and the other with mostly bare streets and some lawns still visible.

In the snow areas, cars are even buried too deeply on the streets to be visible. Streets are clogged and stranded cars can't move. Even normally-plowed suburban streets are filled with snow and a forecast of more to come.

"The area that's been hardest hit is South Buffalo. The driving ban is still in effect. The limited state of emergency is still in effect," Brown said at a late afternoon news conference.

Parking Commissioner Kevin Helfer says his crews have towed away 60 cars and there are many more to be moved before snow plow crews can open up even major streets. Public Works Commissioner Steven Stepniak says there is so much snow, it's being hauled away rather than plowed.

Snowmobiles have been deployed to assist people in need. Officials say emergency responders may be delayed due to the conditions. Mayor Brown said there was no access to South Buffalo's Mercy Hospital. He says there are no known fatalities due to the storm.

"This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of Erie County," Poloncarz said.

Tuesday night's Buffalo Sabres game against the San Jose Sharks at First Niagara Center will be played as scheduled. The Sabres are encouraging fans to attend to obey driving bans and use caution when driving to the arena. Seat holders who can't make it can exchange their tickets for a future date.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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