After days of heavy, and in some cases record-breaking, snow battered much of western New York, Sunday’s weather finally gave crews enough respite to put a damper on the massive cleanup effort.
“Today is cleanup day,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said late Sunday morning. “It’s a very important day because we have some time to get out there and continue to make sure we clean up our community and get it back to normal.”
That meant a day focused on back roads in the region, particularly in hard-hit areas like Orchard Park, Evans, Lackawanna and Hamburg. It meant using stackers and dump trucks, for example, to remove snow that had compacted and was too heavy for some plows to move. In Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown said crews entered residential streets around 8 a.m. Sunday to clear and remove snow.
But much work remains to recover from the storm, which Poloncarz said set a state record for the most snowfall in a 24-hour period, surpassing a mark set for decades on the famously snow-capped Tug Hill Plateau north of Oneida Lake.
As of Sunday, travel bans remained in place in Lackawanna, Hamburg, Orchard Park, Evans and a portion of Buffalo just south of William Street.
“I am confident that the remaining driving bans can be lifted in the next 24 to 48 hours,” said Poloncarz, who reported a serious car accident on line 20 in Hamburg at 4 p.m. on Sunday, in which a car rolled over on its side and landed on a pile of snow.
Much of the attention will likely focus on hard-hit areas like Orchard Park, Evans, Lackawanna and Hamburg, where travel bans remain in place, noted Dan Neaverth, the county’s emergency services officer. Many school districts have already announced closures for Monday as the cleanup continues.
County and state officials urged residents to remain patient, asking them to stay off the streets in areas with travel bans so crews have time to work on the clean-up efforts. And for those who had to ditch their cars during the storm, those vehicles were towed from Erie County to McKinley Mall’s former Sears parking lot. An inventory of towed cars, accessible at erie.gov/towedvehicles, as of 5 p.m. Sunday had 102 vehicles with 75 license plates from New York, 10 from Canada, three from Pennsylvania, two each from Ohio, Florida and Illinois, and one each from Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Iowa, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. One was a trailer.
“This was a record-breaking storm that was in some ways more intense than the storm we had in 2014, Snowvember,” said Karen Hoak, deputy public works commissioner for the County Highway Division. “At times we’ve seen that there was an accumulation of six inches per hour, so the recovery is still ongoing.”
While Mother Nature cooperated with sun and clear skies on Sunday, it was also windy, causing drifts and blowing snow in flat areas.
Many of the school children in western New York will be home early this week, extending their Thanksgiving week break. Among the school districts closed Monday: Buffalo, Lackawanna, Orchard Park, Hamburg, Frontier, Lake Shore, Eden and West Seneca. Orchard Park and Hamburg, the communities hardest hit by the storm, are also off school Tuesday.
The announcement of the closure comes after Erie County officials said early Sunday that they would be speaking with school district officials today about plans to reopen the school.
Other walks of life will also be paused Monday: For example, the city of Buffalo said its Cazenovia and Lovejoy indoor swimming pools will be closed Monday, while the city’s trash and recycling pickup will also be canceled Monday before the schedule returns to normal on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, many Erie County courtrooms conduct most operations virtually Monday, with physical access to court facilities restricted. And Erie County non-essential personnel will be allowed to work from home Monday — an echo of what many workers with that skill could do after such a storm.
Gov. Kathy Hochul Sunday morning said the state has spoken to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which is in the process of sending its request to the White House for a federal emergency declaration for Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Genesee, Jefferson, Lewis, counties Niagara, Oneida, Oswego, St. Lawrence and Wyoming. “We hope to get an answer soon,” said Hochul, noting that such a statement would give affected counties access to federal funds to support ongoing relief efforts.
In addition, Hochul said the state will seek assistance from the Small Business Administration to help all of the small businesses that have had to close amid the storm and are likely to take a financial hit.
Some shops were also damaged, such as Braymiller’s Lanes in Hamburg, where the roof partially collapsed, meaning the building will have to be demolished.
On Sunday, when the building was due to be demolished on Monday, Braymiller Lane owner Howard Braymiller felt a little more positive and vowed to rebuild the 80-year-old bowling alley.
“It was a historic storm,” Hochul said. “Without a doubt it is one for the record books. And as a Buffalo native who’s lived upstate my entire life, we’ve seen a lot of snow. But when you get to 80 to 85 inches over time, you know, just a two-day snow event, anywhere from Natural Bridge in the North Country to Orchard Park, that’s one to tell your grandkids about. But how you make it through is mostly judged by how we’re judged.
Erie County is doing that now.
Late Sunday morning, the county was assessing five collapsed sites and was actively monitoring structures that could be damaged or collapsed from the heavy snow loads, said Greg Butcher, the county’s assistant homeland security commissioner. Once a site is identified, people must be relocated to shelters or warming locations until the safety of the structure can be determined.
Poloncarz said about 80 residents used the accommodation at Hamburg’s senior center, including 20 who were recently moved there from a housing complex on the border between Hamburg and the Obstgarten “where they were concerned about the structural integrity of the roof”.
County officials have reported no more deaths from the storm since announcing on Friday that two men died of heart attacks while clearing snow, grim news that prompted officials to advise residents not to attempt to clear such a volume of snow shovel – especially without the help of others.
Debris from this year’s storm could be seen in Orchard Park, which undoubtedly set a one-day snowfall record of 77 inches on Friday once that amount was confirmed by the state climatologist.
During the storm, stories abounded of neighbors helping each other.
This included the Ten Lives Club, a cat rescue and adoption group in Blasdell, which called for help when their staff couldn’t reach the shelter because a 6-foot wall of snow blocked the entrance.
County officials reported Sunday that they were able to respond and open access to the shelter so all animals could be cared for and fed.
“We are making great progress,” said Poloncarz. “We know there are a lot of people out there who wish every road was open by now. And I just want to say to you all that we are making great progress.”