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Heavy snow plus rain could spell more trouble for Buffalo homeowners

By Jason Hanna, Ray Sanchez and Steve Almasy, CNN
updated 3:40 AM EST, Sat November 22, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Officials up death toll to 13
  • Authorities worry some buildings could collapse when snow sops up rain
  • An NFL game moved to Detroit's Ford Field on Monday
  • Snowdrifts have trapped people in their homes

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(CNN) -- The snowfall largely subsided in the Buffalo area Friday after nearly 7 feet in three days, but the deadly weather emergency is far from over: An expected warmup and weekend rains mean likely flooding -- and that's just the start of the problems.

The heavy snow still threatens to collapse more roofs before it melts, and officials are urging stir-crazy residents not to even think about driving unless absolutely necessary, even as some major roads began to reopen Friday.

Rain starting Saturday, and a warmup to 60 degrees on Monday, means more misery is ahead after the snowstorms that officials say have contributed to at least 13 deaths.

"Warming will bring melting. Melting will bring water. Water will bring floods," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo told reporters Friday. "(Likely) more flooding than we have seen in a long, long time."

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Some roofs already have crumbled, but rain may collapse more, in part because the already heavy snow perched atop buildings will soak up this weekend's rain before it melts, Erie County officials have said.

About 30 roofs collapsed from Thursday night into Friday morning, Erie County Deputy Executive Richard Tobe told reporters Friday morning.

With the rain and melting, some communities will be at risk of flooding through Tuesday

"(We) expect 5 to 6 feet of water in some areas in a short period of time," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said.

Some major roads, such as parts of the New York State Thruway, will reopen Friday afternoon, and some local driving bans are being lifted -- but largely so that trucks can deliver food to stores and crews can remove abandoned vehicles, Cuomo said.

He added that no one should drive unless necessary.

"If you have a nonessential purpose, now is not the time to be driving around," Cuomo said. "The roads are still dangerous."

Snow and vehicle removals still are major tasks ahead. Erie County crews have had to deal with clearing 1,800 lane-miles of county roads before getting to residential streets, Poloncarz said Friday.

Cities and towns may have had more success with residential areas; 93% of hard-hit south Buffalo's residential streets had been plowed at least once by Friday, Mayor Bryon Brown said.

Man found dead in vehicle; senior dies after evacuation

The latest of the 13 deaths to be counted is a 68-year-old man who died of a heart attack while snowplowing his driveway in Cheektowaga, according to Erie County Spokesman Benjamin Swanekamp.

The death toll also includes one senior citizen who died of natural causes after or while the person was evacuated Thursday from a nursing home in Cheektowaga, officials said. Earlier, authorities said two people had died, but they corrected themselves at an afternoon news conference.

Workers clear snow from the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, November 23 in Orchard Park, New York. Snowed out at the stadium, the Bills are in Detroit to play their "home" NFL football game against the New York Jets on Monday night. Western New York continues to dig out from a lake-effect storm that dumped about a year's worth of snow in three days, trapping residents in their homes and stranding motorists on roadways. Workers clear snow from the field at Ralph Wilson Stadium on Sunday, November 23 in Orchard Park, New York. Snowed out at the stadium, the Bills are in Detroit to play their "home" NFL football game against the New York Jets on Monday night. Western New York continues to dig out from a lake-effect storm that dumped about a year's worth of snow in three days, trapping residents in their homes and stranding motorists on roadways.
Wintry weather across U.S.
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Photos: Wintry weather across U.S. Photos: Wintry weather across U.S.
Buffalo snowstorm aftermath from the air
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And the storm forced the NFL to announce that Sunday's game between the Buffalo Bills and the New York Jets, scheduled to be played at the Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium, will take place at Detroit's Ford Field on Monday night.

But even leaving the Buffalo area had its complications. Before meeting at the Bills' stadium Friday morning to get on a bus to the airport, some of the players had to be picked up by snowmobile because of driving bans in certain areas, team spokesman Scott Berchtold said.

Seeking shelter

At the Winchester Volunteer Fire Company station on Harlem Street, as many as 40 people stranded in the snow have sought shelter since Tuesday. More than 6 feet of snow cover the streets. Abandoned cars are barely visible under the drifts.

Fire trucks can't leave the station. Attempts by firefighters to get out in an SUV were futile. One medic hopped onto a snowmobile to rush to a call. Other volunteers jumped onto ATVs to reach a home where the roof was buckling under the weight of the snow.

Maria Odom's two cats and a dog were rescued from the house.

"I'm ready for it to end," Odom, 38, said of the extreme weather. "I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen anything like this."

At the fire station, driver Steve Randall's truckload of milk and eggs has served as the main source of provisions. Randall said he was stuck in his truck for nearly five hours before making his way to the firehouse, where people have been sleeping on tables to stay off the cold floor.

"We've been eating like kings for a while, but now we're running out of food," he said. Firehouse occupants have been making quiche, served with milk and bread from a store across the street.

From the Tops grocery store nearby, people hauling bags of food headed out into the snow by foot. One man dragged groceries in a sled; another pulled his child through the snow in a laundry basket. Robert Mead embarked on a 5-mile trek to bring formula to his 9-month-old baby.

Nearly a year's snowfall in three days

Residents just stared out their windows at the mounds of white stuff, if they could see out at all.

In East Aurora, Lisa Gutekunst's home was capped with more than 4 feet of snow, she said Thursday.

"The snow is coming down so hard you can't see out the window," she said. "We've cleared our driveway so many times that we've run out of places to put the snow."

The 86 inches that fell in some areas in three days come close to a year's worth of snow. In a typical year, Buffalo's snowfall totals about 7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

Extreme conditions lead to tragedy

The 10 other people who died included four who suffered cardiac issues while they shoveled snow and one who died in a car accident, Erie County officials reported. A man in his 60s had a heart attack while he tried to move a snowplow or a snowblower, said Tobe, the Erie County deputy executive.

Two residents, from Niagara and Erie counties, died of apparent exposure Wednesday night or Thursday morning, Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, said Thursday.

"They both had chronic illnesses," she said. "They both had mental health issues, and were found outside either their home or a close friend's home. They had probably been there overnight."

Brown, the Buffalo mayor, and other city officials recounted stories of rescuers trudging around snowdrifts as high as houses to get people to hospitals, and police officers delivering special baby formula to a pair of infants.

CNN's Alexandra Field, Leigh Remizowski, Ashley Fantz, Ed Payne, Marcus Hooper, Martin Savidge, Catherine E. Shoichet and Jill Martin contributed to this report.

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