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Agencies prepare for increased need as cold snap hits WNY

Michael Mroziak, WBFO

With Arctic cold due to arrive in Western New York Thursday evening, Buffalo-area health and human service agencies were preparing for the need to bring people off the streets.

The National Weather Service warned that winds up to 30 miles per hour that were expected by Thursday night could create wind chills that feel as low as 25 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

Experts warn that exposure to such severe cold can lead to hypothermia and frostbite in only a few minutes. Symptoms of frostbite include redness or pain in any skin area, a white or grayish skin area, a waxy or unusually firm feeling and numbness. Symptoms of hypothermia may include severe shivering, exhaustion or drowsiness, confusion, memory loss and slurred speech.

Local American Red Cross spokesman Jay Bonafede said if one needs to be out in the cold over the next few days, prepare accordingly.

"Make sure you're wearing layers of clothing, hats, mittens, boots," he said. "When you're outside shoveling snow, make sure you're taking breaks, make sure you have all of your skin covered."

Bonafede warned of the dangers of certain means to heat homes, including space heaters. He says they must be placed on a firm, sturdy and non-flammable surface, and kept at least three feet from flammable items including curtains. He warned against using stoves or ovens to heat a home. It's not only a fire hazard, but also creates the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning. 

"The other thing we've seen is people, when and if their pipes freeze, try to do something unsafe like use a blow torch or something like that to try and unfreeze them. That is obviously a severe fire hazard."

He recommends running taps at a trickle to keep water flowing and, in theory, prevent freezing. Rather than use flame to heat a pipe, wrap them to insulate.

Local health and human service centers participating in Code Blue, which mobilizes to get the region's homeless off the street in times of dangerous cold, were preparing for possible additional guests.

Participating agencies include the Lt. Col. Matt Urban Hope Center, St. Luke's Mission of Mercy and Harbor House.

Meanwhile at the Buffalo City Mission, executive director Stuart Harper  said they have been filled to capacity but would prepare cots or other accommodations in the event more people came in off the streets.

"Homelessness is up nine percent in Erie County. There are 6,000 homeless people in Erie County, and a majority of those people are in Buffalo," he said. "We're full all the time. Our men's shelter is full all the time."

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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