The city of Buffalo, New York is no stranger to harsh winter weather, but the convergence of a number of strong weather systems this week brought death and destruction to The Queen City.
Just before Christmas, as temperatures plunged thanks to a massive arctic blast, Buffalo found itself in the crosshairs of a deadly convergence of wild weather. Whiteout conditions were reported throughout much of the city, and Erie County issued a mandatory driving ban, hoping to keep anyone off the road who wasn’t a first responder or part of emergency services.
Now, with parts of the city beginning to clean up, tragedy lurks around every corner.
At least 25 people were killed across Erie County in the recent severe winter storm, according to Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said
Some of those people were found in cars and some were even found in the street, Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than two days.”
Then, in an extraordinary and terrifying turn of events:
For the first time in the Buffalo Fire Department’s history, they could not respond to any calls because of the conditions.
Some stories from the storm were downright terrifying.
Ditjak Ilunga of Gaithersburg, Maryland, was on his way to visit relatives in Hamilton, Ontario, for Christmas with his daughters Friday when their SUV was trapped in Buffalo. Unable to get help, they spent hours with the engine running in the vehicle buffeted by wind and nearly buried in snow.
By 4 a.m. Saturday, with their fuel nearly gone, Ilunga made a desperate choice to risk the howling storm to reach a nearby shelter. He carried 6-year-old Destiny on his back while 16-year-old Cindy clutched their Pomeranian puppy, stepping into his footprints as they trudged through drifts.
“If I stay in this car I’m going to die here with my kids,” he recalled thinking, but believing they had to try. He cried when the family walked through the shelter doors. “It’s something I will never forget in my life.”
Officials fear that the death toll could rise significantly as emergency crews begin to make their way throughout the city.