Thousands of flights grounded as winter storm death toll rises to 34

Temperatures fell to as low as -40C in some areas

Graig Graziosi
Sunday 25 December 2022 23:03 GMT
Arctic blast kills at least 18 as America swept by snow and rain

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Millions of people across the United States and Canada spent Christmas Day hunkered down against freezing conditions as Winter Storm Elliott continued to devastate vast swathes of North America. The deadly storm has left many without power and trapped inside their homes, and has disrupted thousands of flights.

Temperatures dropped to as low as -40C in some places, while the scope of the storm has been nearly unprecedented, stretching from the Great Lakes to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico.

About 60 per cent of the US population was under some sort of winter weather advisory or warning on Sunday, as temperatures plummeted to drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians, the National Weather Service said.

The extreme winter storm – which has already killed at least 34 people – has disrupted air, rail and road travel during one of the busiest times of the year.

Perhaps hardest hit was Buffalo, New York, where residents were buried in nearly 4ft of snow and were left without heat as a result of power outages throughout the region.

Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said the death toll from the storm had risen to seven in the Buffalo region in the far west of New York State, where the total accumulation of snow was over a metre.

Some of the dead were found in cars and some in snow banks, Mr Poloncarz said, adding that the death count might still rise.

“This is not the Christmas any of us hoped for nor expected, but try to have as merry a Christmas as possible today,” he said on Twitter on Sunday. “My deepest condolences to the families who have lost loved ones.”

New York governor Kathy Hochul told reporters she had been in touch with the White House and that the Biden administration would support the state’s request for a federal disaster to be declared.

“This will go down in history as Buffalo’s most devastating storm. This one is for the ages, and we’re still in the middle of it,” Ms Hochul said.

FlightAware data showed that more than 2,800 flights were cancelled on December 24, and another 6,500 were delayed.

Whiteout conditions caused by the blizzard caused a massive 46-car pile-up on the Ohio Turnpike, leaving four people dead.

Rescuers at the scene of a multi-vehicle crash in which four people died and many were injured on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County, Ohio
Rescuers at the scene of a multi-vehicle crash in which four people died and many were injured on the Ohio Turnpike in Erie County, Ohio (EPA)

Greyhound and Amtrak also experienced service disruption due to the storm. Greyhound cancelled its bus services on certain areas on Saturday and Sunday because of “winter weather” conditions, CNN reported.

Amtrak also reported that it was cancelling some of its train routes through the Christmas period, but noted that customers who are affected should be able to take a different train on another day without issue.

On the shipping side, UPS, FedEx and USPS have all experienced disruptions to their operations as a result of the storm. UPS compiled a list of postal codes where shipping disruptions were likely, and noted that “some delivery and pickup services may be affected”.

FedEx issued a statement saying the company had experienced “substantial disruptions” at two of its processing hubs, and noted that “all FedEx Express locations have been impacted by severe weather and delays can be expected for package deliveries across the US with a delivery commitment through Monday, 26 December”.

USPS said it had shut down 89 post offices, and even shipping giant Amazon said it had been forced to “temporarily close” some of its sites.

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