NFL cancels and moves game amid massive, deadly Buffalo snowstorm
(CNN) — The deadly western New York snowstorm has forced the cancellation of Sunday’s game between the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at Ralph Wilson Stadium, which was buried in an estimated 220,000 tons of snow.
In a tweet Thursday, November 20, 2014, the National Football League said the game will be rescheduled and relocated as part of week 12 of the season.
The extreme weather has claimed at least 10 lives — the latest victims two people with mental health issues who died of apparent exposure overnight, Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, said Thursday.
Harlem Street in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca offered a glimpse of life under the deadly and monumental western New York snowstorm.
Some people forced to find temporary shelter have found it at the Winchester Volunteer Fire Company station, which has housed as many as 40 people since Tuesday. Up to 6 feet of snow cover the streets. Abandoned cars are barely visible under the drifts.
Fire trucks can’t leave the station. Attempts by firefighters to get out in an SUV were futile. One medic hopped on a snowmobile to rush to a call. Other volunteers jumped on ATVs to reach a home where the roof was buckling under the weight of the snow.
Maria Odom’s two cats and a dog were rescued from the house.
“I’m ready for it to end,” Odom, 38, said of the extreme weather. “I’ve lived here my whole life and I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Back at the fire station, driver Steve Randall’s truckload of milk and eggs has served as the main source of provisions. Randall said he was stuck in his truck for nearly five hours before making his way to the firehouse, where people have been sleeping on tables to stay off the cold floor.
“We’ve been eating like kings for a while but now we’re running out of food,” he said. Firehouse occupants have been making quiche, served with milk and bread from a store across the street.
From the Tops grocery store nearby, people hauling bags of food headed out into the snow by foot. One man dragged groceries in a sled; another pulled his child through the snow in a laundry basket. Robert Mead embarked on a five-mile trek to bring formula to his 9-month-old baby.
On Thursday afternoon, Erie County officials said there was a “significant threat of a roof collapse” at the 184-bed Garden Gate Health Care Facility in Cheektowaga. Residents reported wall cracks and a sagging ceiling. Several feet of snow piled on the roof.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who had earlier tweeted that the roof was collapsing, later clarified the statement, saying beams in the building were twisted and walls cracked.
No injuries were reported and patients were evacuated. Residents were taken temporarily to a business park, said Scott Zylka with the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, adding that the roof structure was compromised.
A year’s snowfall in 3 days?
As if the situation weren’t bad enough, Buffalo’s southern suburbs could see up to 3 more feet by Thursday night.
Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills play, and East Aurora — with 2 feet of fresh snow — were the hardest hit Thursday. Snow was expected most of the night.
If the forecast holds, that’s more than a year’s worth of snow in just three days. In a typical year, Buffalo’s snowfall totals about 7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.
The extreme conditions have led to tragedy in and around Buffalo.
Ten people have died, including four who suffered cardiac issues while they shoveled snow and one who died in a car accident, Erie County officials reported. A man in his 60s had a heart attack while he tried to move a snow plow or a snow blower, Erie County deputy executive Richard Tobe said.
In Alden, a 46-year-old man was found dead inside a car buried in 12 to 15 feet of snow. In Genesee County, Jack Boyce, a 56-year-old county employee, died after collapsing Tuesday morning while operating a snow blower outside the county sheriff’s office, according to county manager Jay Gsell.
Trapped by drifts
Piled high and deep, the snow is a nightmare for south Buffalo residents Donna and Sean Yager. It took them almost five hours to free their car from its snowy confines.
Chrissy Hazard of Cheektowaga found herself trapped in her own home, surrounded by 5½ feet of snow. She has plenty of company: her husband, a friend, seven children and some dogs.
It’s close quarters when there’s nowhere to go.
Everything’s all right for now, she told CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360.”
“We’re good,” she said. “We’re buried in the house but we’re doing OK.”
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown and city officials Wednesday recounted stories of rescuers trudging around snowdrifts as high as houses to get people to hospitals, of fire stations turned into temporary shelters and police officers delivering special baby formula to a pair of infants.
“It is clear that we are one Buffalo,” Brown said.
Buffalo prides itself as “The City of Good Neighbors,” and Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted that it has “come together and shown a real sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor, which is always good to see.”
A sporting chance
Wednesday night’s football game between the University of Buffalo and Kent State was postponed because the visitors’ equipment truck didn’t arrive on time. The game has been tentatively rescheduled for November 21, school officials said in a statement.
The NFL is keeping a close eye on the weather, too. The Buffalo Bills are scheduled to play the New York Jets on Sunday. The storms will be long gone by then, but Ralph Wilson Stadium is a mess, buried in an estimated 220,000 tons of snow.
“We have not had this much snow, as far as we know, in the history of our team,” said Andy Major, a Bills vice president. “It might take three days or so to remove one foot of snow before a game and now we’ve got four feet of snow on a 200-acre site where there’s potential for more coming. So right there it gives you the magnitude.”
The team is offering tickets to the game and $10 an hour to anyone willing to help remove the snow.
The governor said playing football in Buffalo on Sunday may be impractical.
“Everybody would love to see a Bills game go forward, but I think even more, everybody wants to make sure that public safety comes first,” Cuomo told reporters. “If you asked me today, right now, my two cents would be it’s impractical to do the game because it could jeopardize public safety.”
Poloncarz, the county executive, agreed.
“At this moment, I cannot commit to having emergency service personnel and the sheriff’s office on Sunday,” he said.
Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, said: “Public safety is the first priority. We have been in discussions regarding potential alternatives.”
Snow removal crews will get some help from the forecast.
Temperatures are expected to climb higher than the freezing point on Saturday and reach the 50s on Sunday, the National Weather Service said. But rain is also likely.
“That would be a terrible thing,” CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers said. “If it rains — and it probably will at least on the weekend — all of that snow is not going to melt right away. That snow is going to hold that rain in and then that snow on top is going to get heavier and heavier.”
And that could stress buildings already laden with several feet of snow.
Clearing the streets
Driving is still treacherous in many parts of Buffalo.
The mayor predicted a “long way to go” before efforts to clear the city’s roadways are finished. Already, more than 6,500 tons of snow have been removed from city streets and highways.
“It is going to be a slow go,” Brown said. “Historic amounts of snow have fallen. There is no place to put that snow.”
Instead of plowing the snow, front-end loaders are scooping it up and piling it into the back of dump trucks to be hauled away.
Contractors and city crews are working round the clock to clear the 10 square miles that have been pummeled by lake-effect snow, caused by arctic air pushing over the relatively warm waters of the Great Lakes.