Buffalo braces for 'toxic brew' of flooding as 7 feet of snow start to melt

Buffalo braces for flooding
Buffalo braces for flooding

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Story highlights

  • The Buffalo area braces for flooding and brutal winds that could knock down power lines
  • Be ready to evacuate, Gov. Andrew Cuomo tells people at risk for flooding
  • "It's not water," Cuomo says. "It's a toxic brew. It has sewage in it; it has runoff in it."
  • Strangers are coming to help clear some of the mammoth snowfall
What's worse than 7 feet of snow piled up in front of your house? How about the flooding that comes once those 7 feet of snow melt?
That's exactly what some Buffalonians will grapple with when temperatures Monday warm up to around 60 degrees.
Swift-water rescue teams and helicopters are already on standby in western New York in case anyone gets caught in a deluge.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said residents shouldn't wait until the last minute to evacuate if they think their homes will get inundated. He advised such homeowners to clear their basements of valuables.
The governor said dealing with flooding is worse than the snow.
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"It's not water," Cuomo said. "It's a toxic brew. It has sewage in it; it has runoff in it."
State officials have beefed up stockpiles of generators and pumps and prepared almost 180,000 sandbags.
After last week's nationwide bout with frigid weather, Buffalo temperatures could reach as 60 on Monday, according to the National Weather Service. Freezing temperatures are not expected again until Tuesday night.
"At least 3 feet of snow has melted so far," Dawn Buck of Depew, New York, told CNN's iReport on Sunday afternoon.
But Erie County spokesman Benjamin Swanekamp said so far, the snow has been melting at a "relatively even pace."
"The pace of the melting and the lack of additional rain has kept it manageable," Swanekamp said late Sunday night.
About 700,000 people are under a flood warning until Wednesday, CNN meteorologist Pedram Javaheri said.
Officials have been moving pumps into neighborhoods and sandbags near creeks. So far, the county hasn't received reports of major flooding.
But Cuomo has asked residents to clean out storm drains in front of their houses "so the water has some place to go."
Collapsing roofs
There's also the threat of more building collapses as all the rain saturates the snow on the tops of buildings, making the load even heavier.
Several dozen roofs have already collapsed from just the weight of the snow, Erie County officials said.
While most of the fallen buildings were unoccupied, Swanekamp said, a roof collapse at a dairy barn roof killed 25 cattle
Cuomo said structural engineers will examine schools and other government buildings that might be in danger of roof collapses. He said most state government offices will reopen Monday.
Nasty winds too
The National Weather Service in Buffalo issued a high wind warning from Monday afternoon until early Tuesday morning.
High wind warnings are issued when sustained winds of at least 40 miles per hour are expected for at least an hour, with gusts of at least 58 mph at any time.
The winds could topple trees and power lines, officials said. And with ongoing snow melt, the saturated ground will make it easier for some trees to come down.
'City of Good Neighbors'
Anthony Marchioli of Buffalo was so bored that he rented a small snow tractor to clear driveways on his street, CNN affiliate WKBW reported.
On the way back from the rental company, he saw his pregnant wife standing in the street outside their house.
Her water had broken. So Marchioli put her on the tractor and pushed through whiteout snow to Mercy Hospital, WKBW said.
Eleven hours later, the couple's third daughter was born. Her name: Loxley Storm Marchioli.
And despite the intimidating heaps of snow, strangers came to help any way they could.
Erica Bartoe of Hamburg, New York, told CNN's iReport from Hamburg, New York that people had come to her town from other areas to help shovel snow and drop off donations.
"Buffalo is called the City of Good Neighbors for a reason," she said. "There were people everywhere helping out."