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New York Thruway: We could have handled snow storm better

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Snow leaves travelers stranded
  • New York Thruway Authority could have done a better job, a spokesman says
  • Route I-90 is reopened at 6 a.m. Friday
  • A lake-effect snow warning continues into the afternoon
  • Some motorists have been stranded since Thursday

New York (CNN) -- The New York Thruway Authority could have done a better job in dealing with a snowstorm that caused accidents and shut down a section of interstate highway near Buffalo, New York, an agency spokesman said Friday.

The agency is reviewing emergency procedures after hundreds of snowbound motorists were left stranded along a seven-mile stretch of Interstate 90, agency spokesman R.W. Groneman said.

"We tried to contact stranded motorists," he said. "We tried to bring them water and nutrition."

Authorities used plows and all-terrain vehicles to clear the road and provide food, water and gas to those stuck, and even busing stranded motorists to a senior center-turned-shelter in suburban Cheektowaga.

Groneman said the agency is searching for ways it could have prevented additional motorists from joining the gridlocked section of the highway, which was closed for more than 24 hours.

"We're looking for a better way to do that, by putting up barriers and reaching out to them," Groneman said.

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The highway reopened at 6 a.m. Friday.

More lake-effect snow fell on parts of upstate New York Friday, forecasters said, as residents continued digging out from the storm that left some 6-foot-high snow drifts in its wake. The National Weather Service said more than 2 feet of snow fell over the past two days in a band south and east of Buffalo, with 3 feet or more in a narrow area at the center of that band.

"When the snow first hit, I could barely get a mile from my house," said Buffalo resident Martha Bouquin. "It's better now because the snow plows are in action."

Orchard Park resident Audra Wells said she can drive on roads once rendered impassable. "Yesterday, we couldn't even open our door," she said.

While packing a punch, the storm was hardly a record-setter: More than 76 inches of snow fell in Buffalo in late December 2001, including 35.4 inches in a single 24-hour period, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

"Normally we get several of these a year, but more down south in what we call ski country," said National Weather Center meteorologist Judy Levan in Buffalo, New York. "The impact of this storm was that is was over the metro areas, which caused some of the problems."

Snowbound motorist and Lake Erie resident Lynsey Branch said she had been traveling to Buffalo in an effort buy groceries and Christmas presents when she was stopped by gridlocked highways and mounting snow drifts, trapping her in her car for more than 24 hours.

"They dug me out just around 9:30 last night," Branch said. "We had gone over to Buffalo Wednesday night to go shopping. ..."That's how bad the lake effect is."

Branch said "the whole situation could have been dealt with a lot better," adding that there was little communication between trapped motorists and state emergency workers.

"Every time we asked a question (of New York State Police officers) there was no concrete answer," she said. "They were dancing around all the questions we asked them."

The National Weather Service said several inches of snow would accumulate around Lake Ontario on Friday, with lake-effect snow showers tapering off Friday evening.

It was "just too much in too short of a time," Bob Hill, who offered his plow to help Thursday, told CNN affiliate WVIB.

Shifting winds from an east-moving front combined with record-breaking warm water temperatures in Lake Erie to create the intense early December storm, meteorologists said.

Frank Rodriguez, 22, whose office backs up to the once-clogged highway, said people -- including a few truck drivers wearing only T-shirts as they waded through 2 1/2f feet of snow -- had been scaling fences all day to get food and find warmth.

He said the interstate was "completely dead" most of Thursday. Ironically, his hometown of Grand Island, 11 miles north of Buffalo, had minimal snow.

"It was kind of weird -- it was almost like a blanket" covering some spots and not others a few miles away, Rodriguez said.

That disparity is common with lake-effect snow, with official advisories warning about rapidly changing conditions and noting that "the weather can vary from locally heavy snow in narrow bands to clear skies just a few miles away."

CNN's Sean Morris, Angela Fritz and Greg Botelho contributed to this report