Winter storm death toll rises as recovery efforts and travel issues continue

By Aditi Sangal, Mike Hayes, Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond and Tori B. Powell, CNN

Updated 7:14 p.m. ET, December 27, 2022
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11:52 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

New York’s Erie County storm-related death toll rises to 28, county official says 

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

At least 28 have died due to the winter storm that hit New York state over the Christmas weekend, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz shared in an update on Tuesday.

Monday night, Poloncarz said the death toll for Erie County stood at 27. On Tuesday, the Department of Health announced three additional weather-related deaths but disqualified two deaths that were previously considered weather related. 

Poloncarz addressed the discrepancy in death toll numbers saying that Erie County Medical Examiner’s Office determined that the first two weather related deaths that were reported in Cheektowaga were actually medical conditions that “were not save-able.” 


12:54 p.m. ET, December 27, 2022

Erie County executive to Buffalo residents: "Please, please, please do not drive in the city"

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks at a news conference Tuesday.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz speaks at a news conference Tuesday. (WKBW)

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz implored people "please, please, please do not drive in the city of Buffalo" where a traffic ban has been implemented.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Poloncarz said that 100 military police and additional New York State police are being brought in to "manage traffic control" in the city because "too many people" are ignoring the ban.

All of Erie County has a driving advisory in place, but Buffalo is the only city with an outright driving ban.

"It is ugly right now on many of the streets," Poloncarz said, noting that when he rode around the city in an emergency vehicle he felt like he was driving "three feet above ground."

"I am begging, stay home," Poloncarz said, adding that in case of emergency people should call 911.

Neighbors help push a motorist stuck in the snow in Buffalo on Monday.
Neighbors help push a motorist stuck in the snow in Buffalo on Monday. (Derek Gee/The Buffalo News/AP)

Erie County Undersheriff William Cooley said his office has reallocated a lot of its personnel to accommodate emergency service requests.

“Critical demands of the sheriff's office continue, and they include transportation of dialysis patients and people in need of medical care,” Cooley said. “We're also assisting with medical personnel and getting them to local hospitals and getting them into assisted living facilities and other essential operations.”

The undersheriff said his office has detectives working on these missions, and people normally assigned to work in county buildings and in the agency’s civil division that are out on the roads helping out with emergency service requests.

CNN’s Celina Tebor contributed reporting to this post.

11:04 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

All major highways in western New York are now open

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

All major highways across western New York, including the New York State Thruway, are now open, according to an update from the state's Department of Transportation’s regional office in Rochester.

“This is a sign that we are finally turning the corner on this once-in-a-generation storm,” Gov. Kathy Hochul said in a tweet. “Please continue to follow local advisories & stay safe.”

See her tweet below:

12:10 p.m. ET, December 27, 2022

Buffalo's deputy mayor expects the city death toll to rise

From CNN's Artemis Moshtaghian

National Grid technicians work Monday in Buffalo
National Grid technicians work Monday in Buffalo (Joed Viera/AFP/Getty Images)

Buffalo’s deputy mayor said she expects the city’s death toll to rise as city and county officials provide winter storm updates Tuesday.

Some people died from carbon monoxide poisoning, some were found dead in their vehicles, and others were found in snowbanks in what she said appeared to be attempts made to leave their abandoned vehicles, Buffalo City Deputy Mayor Crystal Rodriguez-Dabney said in an interview with Poppy Harlow on CNN This Morning.

"People were trying to get home [during the storm] and they were stuck and so many people tried to ride out the storm in their car, but also, some people tried to walk and leave their cars," she explained.

The deputy mayor said that at the height of the storm first responders were needing to be rescued but, "it's not still going on, but it was something that was a huge problem for us."

"We had rescue vehicles who were trying to get to emergency situations that were calling saying 'we're stuck' and so we had rescuers rescuing the rescuers."

She addressed looting in the city saying that looters are taking the attention of police who are trying to respond to health emergency situations and "now have to respond to emergency situations related to crimes."

"We have people who are taking T.V.s, we have people who are breaking into stores that have nothing to do with just basic survival and it is reprehensible," Rodriguez-Dabney said echoing Mayor Byron Brown's sentiments.

11:03 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

"It's either $500 a night in New York City or come here": Couple took bus to Atlanta for a new flight home

From CNN's Nick Valencia and Devon Sayers   

After spending Christmas together in New York City, Emily and Richard Jimenez were scheduled to make their way back to their two-year-old son in Las Vegas. But when their Southwest Airlines flight got canceled, the couple were forced to take a bus from New York City to Atlanta instead of waiting for a new flight.

After standing in line for four and a half hours with no agent available to speak, "somebody came around and said 'hey we have 19 seats on a bus going to Atlanta, and it leaves in 30 minutes. And if you want it, make a decision,'" Richard Jimenez said.  

The alternative was to "wait in New York city for six days," Emily Jimenez told CNN at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. "So, it's either $500 a night in New York City or come here."

"We have loyalty status and it doesn't get us anywhere. I mean everybody's in the same situation," Richard said, adding that he is also a medical student and needs to be back on his shift in two days.

Despite the holiday travel difficulties, Emily said she's happy they're enduring the ordeal together. "We're together, you gotta trust and adjust." 

10:59 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

South Carolina county reports 2 winter storm-related deaths

From CNN's Michelle Watson  

A 91-year-old South Carolina man who tried to fix a broken water pipe outside of his home on Christmas day was found dead on Monday, the Anderson County Coroner's office said in a news release. 

Marvin Eugene Henley, 91, went outside his home around 10 p.m. ET on Christmas day in an attempt to repair "a broken water pipe," the release said.   

"The victim came back in the residence a short time later and change some of his wet clothes and then went back outside to continue work on the water pipe," the release said.   

Henley was previously reported missing, according to the release, and was found dead Monday afternoon, around 2:45 p.m. ET.  

The coroner's office ruled Henley's death an "accidental death due to cold environmental exposure."  

Anderson County, South Carolina, counted Henley's death as the second winter storm-related death, the release said.  

The first winter storm-related death was a man who died on Christmas Eve due to a lack of power in his home, according to a separate news release from the department.  

"It appears that after the power went out, the decedent was attempting to prepare his portable oxygen device when he collapsed," the release said.  

The unidentified man's death, "has been ruled a natural death due to underlying medical condition with Winter Storm Elliott as a contributory cause of the death," the coroner's office said.  

10:54 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

New Jersey governor deploys task force to assist with Erie County, New York, rescue efforts

From CNN’s Caroll Alvarado

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy deployed New Jersey Task Force One to assist with rescue efforts in Erie County, New York, he announced on Twitter.

“I’m deploying New Jersey Task Force One to assist New York with rescue efforts after extreme winter weather impacted the state this weekend, because that’s what neighbors do,” Murphy said Monday night.

Twenty–two members of the force traveled to Erie County with rescue equipment, snowmobiles and all-terrain vehicles, New Jersey State Police said on their Facebook page.

Some more context: NJ Task Force One, is one of 28 federal FEMA Urban Search and Rescue teams in the country and operate under the authority of the New Jersey State Police, Homeland Security Branch, Office of Emergency Management, according to their website. 

11:39 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

Why Southwest Airlines is canceling thousands of flights

Analysis by CNN's David Goldman

Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight Monday at Hartsfield--Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta. 
Customers wait to rebook their Southwest Airlines flight Monday at Hartsfield--Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta.  (CNN)

A punishing winter storm that dumped multiple feet of snow across much of America led to widespread flight cancellations over the Christmas holiday. By Monday, air travel was more or less back to normal – unless you booked your holiday travel with Southwest Airlines.

More than 90% of Tuesday’s US flight cancellations are Southwest, according to flight tracking website FlightAware. Southwest canceled 2,500 flights. The next highest: Spirit Airlines with 75.

Southwest warned that it would continue canceling flights until it could get its operations back on track. The company’s CEO said this has been the biggest disruption he’s seen in his career. The Biden administration is investigating.

So, what gives? Southwest had a combination of bad luck and bad planning.

The storm hit Chicago and Denver hard, where Southwest has two of its biggest hubs – Chicago Midway airport and Denver International airport.

Baggage waits to be claimed at the Southwest Airlines terminal after canceled flights at the Los Angeles International Airport on Monday. 
Baggage waits to be claimed at the Southwest Airlines terminal after canceled flights at the Los Angeles International Airport on Monday.  (Eugene Garcia/AP)

More bad luck: The storm hit just as the so-called tripledemic surged across America, leaving people and their families sick with Covid, the flu and RSV. Although Southwest says it was fully staffed for the holiday weekend, illness makes adjusting to increased system stress difficult. Many airlines still lack sufficient staff to recover when events like bad weather cause delays or flight crews max out the hours they’re allowed to work under federal safety regulations.

Read more about Southwest's flight cancellations here.

11:33 a.m. ET, December 27, 2022

Buffalo reaches 100 inches of snow this season — faster than any previous year

From CNN's Brandon Miller

An abandoned car rests on a street in Buffalo on Monday after a massive snow storm blanketed the city.
An abandoned car rests on a street in Buffalo on Monday after a massive snow storm blanketed the city. (Craig Ruttle/AP)

Snowfall on Monday totaled 7.3 inches in Buffalo, making the season snow total for the city exactly 100 inches by Tuesday morning.

This is the fastest Buffalo has reached 100 inches of snow, with records going back to the 1880s.

Just over half of the season’s record-pace snowfall has come since Friday — 50.3 inches between Dec. 23 and Dec. 26 — and it is already the third snowiest December on record with 63.1 inches — (82.7 inches 2001 is highest.

This follows November, which was the second snowiest on record with 36.9 inches observed. 

An average season in Buffalo sees 95.4 inches of snow and around 31 inches on average by Dec. 27. 

Lake-effect snow will lessen today for the Buffalo area, though an additional few inches is possible, and a winter weather advisory remains in place until 1 p.m. today.