At least 48 people have died in US winter storms as freezing conditions persist

Buffalo and the surrounding areas of western New York were hit hard when power went out and many travelers were stranded

Frozen conditions from deadly winter storms in the United States will continue into this week as western New York faces massive snowdrifts snarling emergency vehicles, and travelers across the country see canceled flights and treacherous roads.

The storm has killed at least 48 people and is expected to claim many more after trapping some residents inside and knocking out power to tens of thousands of homes and businesses. Across the US, the storm caused major disruption amid dropping temperatures, blizzard conditions and ferocious winds. Power outages hit many states, the cold usually hits warm states like Florida, and thousands of flights were grounded or delayed causing widespread travel chaos. It was dubbed a "once in a generation" weather event by forecasters.

Western New York state, near the city of Buffalo, was hit hardest, with 43 inches of snow for 48 hours, a snowstorm with no visibility that also recorded hurricanes. Huge snowdrifts almost covered cars and there were thousands of houses in darkness.

At least 27 people are known to have died in western New York, aged between 26 and 93, including a 27-year-old man who contracted carbon monoxide after snow blocked his furnace. Many of the deaths occurred after residents took to the streets despite local driving bans.

The deaths were "people found outside and in the car", a Buffalo police statement read. Police said there were two "isolated" cases of looting during the storm.

Rescue teams even found themselves in need of rescue, with all of Buffalo's fire trucks at one point stranded. Eleven ambulances that had to be abandoned were excavated.

"Rescue teams are rescuing rescuers... it's so horrific," said Erie county executive Mark Poloncarz. "When rescuers have to be saved, I'm not sure what else we can do."

Two people also died in their home in the Buffalo suburb of Cheektowaga when emergency crews were unable to reach them in time to treat their medical conditions. Others were stuck in their cars for more than two days, as cold Arctic air moving east over the Great Lakes caused unusually heavy rainfall.

"This is war with Mother Earth," New York Governor Kathy Hochul said during a news conference. "This will go down in history as the most devastating hurricane in the long history of Buffalo having fought many battles, many, many great storms."

At a news conference on Monday after touring Buffalo, Hochul and mayor Byron Brown emphasized that it remains important for people to stay home and stay off the highway. "Anyone who declares victory and says it's over, it's too early to tell," Hochul said, adding, "The storm is coming back, we expect another six to 12 inches."

Buffalo resident Jeremy Manahan said he had gone almost 29 hours without power. “There is one warmer shelter, but it's too far for me to reach. I can't drive, of course, because I'm stuck in traffic,” he said. "And you can't be outside for more than 10 minutes without getting frostbite."

Zila Santiago told the New York Times that she had been trapped in a snowdrift in her car with her four young children for 11 hours. He called emergency services, the national guard and friends for help, but said no one was coming. He distracted his children, he said, by watching Disney's Frozen.

Santiago, a single father, said he took the road because he couldn't afford to leave the children with their nanny. "I'm basically just desperate," she told the outlet. "This is not something I have ever been through or experienced in my life."

Extreme weather stretches from the Great Lakes on the Canadian border to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the US population is facing some sort of winter weather warning or warning, and temperatures dip below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.

The National Weather Service in the US said frigid Arctic air "overwhelming much of the eastern US will be slow to moderate" but "a major lake effect snow event under the Great Lakes winds will gradually end on Tuesday".

Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters on Friday when their SUV got stuck in Buffalo. They spent hours with the engines running, buffeted by winds and nearly buried in snow.

At 4:00 a.m. on Saturday, running low on fuel, the Ilunga chose to risk the roaring storm to reach the nearest shelter. She carried six-year-old Destiny on her back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their pomeranian pup, following her footprints through the current.

“If I stay in this car, I will die here with my children,” recalls Ilunga thoughtfully. He wept as the family walked through the shelter's doors. “That is something I will never forget in my life.”

The storm knocked out power in communities from Maine to Seattle. But heat and light are continuing to be restored across the US.

Concerns about rolling blackouts across the eastern state eased Sunday after power company PJM Interconnection said its utility could meet the day's peak electricity demand. The mid-Atlantic grid operator has asked its 65 million consumers to conserve energy amid Saturday's freeze.

Storm-related deaths were reported across the country: 10 in Ohio, including a utility worker who was electrocuted and those who died in multiple car crashes; six motorists died in crashes in Missouri, Kansas and Kentucky; a Vermont woman crushed by a falling branch; a man who appears to be homeless is found amid Colorado's subzero temperatures; and a woman who fell through the ice of a Wisconsin river.

In Jackson, Mississippi, city officials announced on Christmas Day residents had to boil their drinking water because drains froze and burst.

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