SHAFAQNA (International Shia News Association) oopers in all-terrain vehicles and rescue crews working without sleep set out Wednesday to reach drivers trapped in a ferocious winter storm that dumped more than 5 feet of snow outside Buffalo, New York — with plenty more on the way.
About 140 miles of Interstate 90, the main artery running east and west across New York state, remained closed, from Rochester to the New York-Pennsylvania state line. There was no word when it would reopen.
More than 100 cars were reported trapped. Drivers ran out of food and patience.
“Mother Nature is showing us who’s boss once again,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said. “This snowfall may break all sorts of records, and that’s saying something in western New York and in Buffalo.”
A Greyhound bus was stranded for a day and a half on I-90. People stared out the windows at a highway littered with abandoned cars. The bus was running on a generator, and passengers could charge their phones, but they were hungry, said Endjie Ulysses, a college student who was on board.
After 34 hours, the people on board were finally rescued by a state trooper.
“I’m feeling OK. I’m just tired,” Ulysses told NBC News by phone from the bus. “I’ve only slept for about two or three hours.”
Authorities around Buffalo reported the fifth, sixth and seventh deaths from the snowstorm: a 46-year-old man found in a car, someone who had a heart attack while operating a snowblower and an elderly man who needed care for what doctors called an “urgent cardiac condition” who died because rewscue crews couldn’t get him to a hospital. Four deaths were reported Tuesday, one in a car crash and three from heart attacks, including two people who were shoveling snow.
The snow paralyzed cities and towns. On social media, people posted pictures of drifts taller than their garage doors and of whole houses all but invisible under thick, white blankets of snow. Authorities responded to 911 calls as they could, but ambulances couldn’t get down side streets in some places.
The towns south of Buffalo were believed to be the hardest hit. Snow totals were incomplete. The National Weather Service said some places could approach the record for a single-day snowfall in the U.S., 6 feet 4 inches.
Outside, the temperature hovered in the high teens, with a wind chill below zero.
“Please do not be fooled by the beautiful sunshine,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown said. “There is still tremendous amounts of snow on the ground.”
The totals that did come in from cities and towns in western New York were daunting: 5 feet 5 inches in Cheektowaga, 5 feet 3 inches in Lancaster, 5 feet in Gardenville.
There was 4 feet of snow in Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills are set to host an NFL game Sunday , against the New York Jets. The team put out a call for volunteers to help shovel the stadium clear of snow — an estimated 220,000 tons of it — and offered $10 an hour, plus tickets to the game.
The weather service warned that 3 to 8 more inches of snow could fall Wednesday and up to 2 feet more by Thursday night outside Buffalo. Temperatures are expected to climb above freezing by Saturday — raising the possibility of flooding as massive banks of snow begin to melt.
“When we say stay home, really, stay home,” Cuomo said.
But Wednesday, the focus was on the trapped. Before dawn, a college basketball team had to be rescued after its bus got stuck in heavy snow for 26 hours about 50 miles from its home campus in Buffalo.
A crew of five people using two heavy-duty snowplows finally cleared a path to free the Niagara University Purple Eagles women’s team, including players, coaches and relatives.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Rene Polka, the director of women’s basketball, told NBC News by phone after the rescue. “It was dark when we first became trapped early Tuesday, but when the sun came up, we saw how bad it was. Then it literally did not stop snowing all day, so we thought we might have been trapped for a lot longer.”
Elsewhere, the last of 40 people who’d been stranded at a highway toll booth were rescued Wednesday morning, said Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive.
Cuomo declared a state of emergency for 10 counties, and the National Guard was activated to help clean up. The state deployed 526 snowplows and 17 large snowblowers.
It was a lake-effect snowstorm, building up as it swept across Lake Erie, thrashing some places but sparing others. Lancaster recorded more than 5 feet of snow. Six miles away, the Buffalo airport got less than 4 inches.
The snow pattern was part of a punishing blast of cold air so broad that temperatures in all 50 states fell to freezing or below. In all, 22 deaths have been reported across the country since Saturday.