A travel ban in New York’s Erie County has been lifted days after it was put in place as a deadly snowstorm ripped through the region, reducing visibility to zero at times.
The ban, which went into effect Friday, expired at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, officials said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told reporters on Wednesday night that the roads were in good condition to lift the ban.
“It’s been 6 days,” Brown said. “Some people have been unable to restock on groceries, restock on medication, get to medical appointments, and being able to safely lift the travel ban will now allow people to do those important things.”
Most city streets are passable, Brown said, and he expected crews to have passed through the center of each residential street by the end of the night.
Although the ban has been lifted, a travel advice was implemented for Erie County as the cleanup continues and the countywide state of emergency is maintained. Brown asked people to be cautious and avoid driving unless necessary.
More than 450 crews were out on the streets of Buffalo plowing and hauling snow, and many traffic lights were still not working, he said.
The storm dumped more than 20 inches of snow on parts of New York, including nearly 52 inches at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, according to the National Metereological Service.
The powerful storm plunged much of the United States into a deep freeze, creating life-threatening conditions as more than 1 million homes and businesses were left in the dark and wreaking havoc on flight schedules during the busy holiday week of travel.
At least 76 people died in the storm, according to an NBC News tally. Erie County accounted for 37 of the deaths, 29 of which occurred in Buffalo.
Weather-related deaths were also reported in Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Vermont.
In Buffalo, officials said the number was likely to rise.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Wednesday night that police have cleared the backlog of calls related to wellness checks, stranded motorists and body reports.
Search-and-rescue teams returned Thursday to check locations where bodies had been reported but could not be confirmed, either due to the amount of snow or inaccurate locations, Gramaglia said.
“We believe there were some credible 911 calls that contained more information…low single digit numbers, that’s again why we’re going to focus our efforts on reaching those areas,” he told reporters.
In Erie County, 17 of the people who died in the blizzard were found outside and four were in a vehicle, according to the county executive. Mark Poloncarz.
Several people died due to a delay in receiving emergency services or from cardiac events related to shoveling or blowing snow. Of the deaths, nine were people who died because they had no heat in their homes, he said.
Poloncarz said in a cheep on Wednesday night that 500 National Guardsmen conducted nearly 850 wellness checks on residents who experienced extended power outages.
Power was being restored in New York, and as of early Thursday, about 400 customers in the state were without power. according to PowerOutage.us.
In Buffalo, where more than 20,000 customers lost power at one point during the storm, only three were without power Wednesday night, according to Brown, the mayor.
On Wednesday, the city’s offices, facilities and roads were opened as temperatures climbed into the 40s in parts of New York.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said late Wednesday that all major state highways in western New York, including the Erie County portion of Interstate 190 and several state routes, would reopen at midnight.
“I am extremely grateful to all of the highway maintenance workers, first responders and emergency services personnel who continue to work tirelessly to help their fellow New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a statement..
The temperature is expected to continue rising to the low 50s in the Buffalo region by Friday and will help melt packed snow, according to the National Weather Service.
Gemma Di Casimirro, julianne mcshane Y kathryn prociv contributed.