NEW YORK – A fearsome winter storm that pummelled the United States with blinding snow and powerful Arctic winds left about a million customers without power Saturday as thousands of cancelled flights stranded travellers making last-minute dashes for Christmas.
At least 17 weather-related deaths have been confirmed across eight states as heavy snow, howling winds and dangerously frigid temperatures kept much of the nation, including the normally temperate south, in a frozen grip for a third straight day.
The “bomb cyclone” winter storm, one of the fiercest in decades, had already forced the cancellation of 2,700 US flights on Saturday and the delay of 6,200 more, a day after nearly 6,000 were scrapped, according to tracking website Flightaware.com.
Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg tweeted Saturday that “the most extreme disruptions are behind us as airline and airport operations gradually recover” – words that travellers stranded at airports including Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York were holding on to.
New York City resident Zack Cuyler, whose flight home to Houston on Dec 22 has been postponed then cancelled twice this week already, was “pretty steamed” about the chaos.
The 35-year-old now hopes to reach his loved ones by Dec 25. “I’m just glad I’ll get to see my family for Christmas,” he told AFP.
In hard-hit New York state, Governor Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard to Erie County and its main city Buffalo, where authorities said emergency services have essentially collapsed in the face of extreme blizzard conditions.
“There are still likely hundreds of people still stuck in vehicles,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said early Saturday, adding that the National Guard was being sent “right into the city of Buffalo for these life-threatening rescues.”
Road ice and white-out conditions also led to the closure of some of the nation’s busiest transport routes, including the cross-country Interstate 70, parts of which were temporarily shut down in Colorado and Kansas.
The National Weather Service warned about lethal conditions and urged residents in affected areas to remain indoors. On Friday, it said wind chills had sent temperatures plunging to -48 degrees Celsius.
The biting cold is an immediate concern for the roughly one million electricity customers who were still without power as of 1830 GMT Saturday, according to tracker poweroutage.us.
Some cities, including in the state of North Carolina, began implementing rolling blackouts due to high power demand, in some cases leaving people unable to safely heat their homes.
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