Death toll rises to 57 as big freeze grips US

The winter storm and blizzard before and during the Christmas Holiday have caused the death of at least 27 people in Erie County in western New York State
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WASHINGTON: A massive winter storm stretching from the Great Lakes all the way down to the Rio Grande along the Mexican border has killed at least 57 people across the US as of Tuesday, media reports said.

Storm-related deaths have been recorded in 12 states -- Colorado, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Wisconsin, Xinhua news agency quoted an NBC News report as saying.

The winter storm and blizzard before and during the Christmas Holiday have caused the death of at least 27 people in Erie County in western New York State, said County Executive Mark Poloncarz in a briefing on Monday.

"This is a horrible situation. The ferocity of this storm was worse than the blizzard of '77, and now it appears that we've had more deaths countywide," Poloncarz said, adding that blinding snow has limited rescue and response efforts.

The 1977 storm was called the "Blizzard That Buried Buffalo", in which 29 people died, most of them trapped in their vehicles, according to the Northeast Regional Climate Centre.

While driving bans have been lifted in some communities, one such order remains in place in Buffalo, Poloncarz said, adding the city is "impassable in most areas", with abandoned vehicles scattered everywhere.

At least 18 people died in Buffalo, said Mayor Byron Brown on Monday.

Some of those deaths are not included in Erie County's official tally, Poloncarz said, adding that the county was working to confirm them.

"This has been a very difficult and dangerous storm," Brown said at a news conference on Monday. "It's been described as a once-in-a-generation storm."

On Monday morning, a "band of heavy lake effect snow" in the Buffalo area was producing 2 to 3 inches of hourly snowfall, with accumulations reaching 6 to 12 inches and as much as 1 to 2 feet in Jefferson and northern Lewis counties, according to the NBC report, which cited a bulletin of the National Weather Service.

New York Governor Kathy Hochul tweeted on Monday that "the storm is weakening, but we are not out of the woods yet".

President Joe Biden declared "an emergency exists" in the state of New York and ordered federal assistance to aid state and local response efforts, according to the White House.

"Do not take a chance," Hochul warned. "Stay home, stay off the roads, and stay safe."

Nationwide, plummeting temperatures have caused power outages to hundreds of thousands as well as warnings from officials about potentially life-threatening conditions.

Washington, D.C., had the coldest Christmas in more than two decades.

Weather forecasts on Sunday showed that much of the eastern US would remain in a deep freeze through Monday before a moderating trend sets in on Tuesday.

Lake-effect snows will continue to result in locally hazardous travel conditions for the next couple of days, but conditions are expected to improve slowly.

As of Sunday evening, electricity was out for tens of thousands of homes and businesses in the northeastern part of the US.

Some utility companies recommended customers conserve energy as frigid temperatures have overburdened gas pipelines and could lead to more power outages.

In Jackson, Mississippi, the water system experienced fluctuating pressure.

Some residents reportedly complained that they had no water pressure on Christmas Eve.

The cold weather and huge snow drifts have also wreaked havoc on travel and trapped people inside their homes.

The snowfall at Buffalo Niagara International Airport totaled 43 inches as of Sunday morning, according to the National Weather Service.

More than 3,900 flights within, into, or out of the US had already been cancelled by Monday evening, with almost 8,200 delayed, according to a CNN report, which cited a flight tracking website.

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