Scrutiny mounts over Buffalo’s response to deadly snowstorm


Buffalo — Buffalo’s response to the massive snowstorm that killed at least 34 people in the area came under increasing fire Wednesday as emergency crews continued to search for survivors and plows moved to keep the Xiaoxueshan, who was in a driving state in the city, was suspended for the sixth consecutive day.

At a daily briefing, Executive Mark Poloncarz of Erie County, which includes Buffalo, lashed out at city leaders for failing to clean up streets quickly and blamed Mayor Byron W. W. Brown’s administration was not involved in a coordinated local and state response. Poloncarz said the county “takes over” a third of Buffalo’s cleanup efforts and has discussed with state officials the possibility of assuming all citywide farming responsibilities during future major storms.

“We get calls every morning from elected officials, but the City of Buffalo is not on the phone,” Poloncarz said. He added: “The mayor won’t be happy to hear that, but the storm, after the storm, after the storm, after the storm, unfortunately, this city was the last one to open up and that shouldn’t be the case. Awkward.”

Speaking at another briefing minutes later, Brown dismissed the allegations, emphasizing that Buffalo was the hardest hit area in a historic storm. He said Polocarz had not expressed concerns to him and insisted there was “no discord” between the two men.

“People have been working around the clock since this storm started,” Brown said. “Some people deal with this stress very differently. Some keep working. Some keep trying to help people in our community, and some break down and throw a fit of rage.”

In an interview later Wednesday, Brown again brushed off the allegations. “We’re frustrated, scared and angry,” he said. “But everything that could have been done before and during the storm has been done.”

The accusation threatens to hamper coordination after the worst storm to hit the region since 1977 and draws fresh scrutiny of Brown, who led the city for nearly 17 years. Brown is up for a fifth term in 2021 as an understudy, despite a corruption scandal at City Hall and complaints of mismanagement in the deeply impoverished city.

“Our city government has failed us,” said community organizer India Walton, a socialist and former Democratic mayoral candidate. “There’s been diversion, fanning, excuses, and that means 30 people have lost their lives, and someone needs to be held accountable.”

Even in a region known for its snow, the storm had devastating effects, which experts and elected officials attribute to historic snowstorm conditions, a lack of emergency management resources and some residents accustomed to extreme weather continuing to Resolutions in life – especially in the days leading up to Christmas.

While past storms tend to hit the small town outside Buffalo the hardest, this storm has hit the city, endangering many more people, leaving more homes without power, filling the streets with cars and ultimately becoming an emergency response. Personnel barricades.

But as Buffalo dug from under the snowdrifts, there were questions about preparations — including the timing of a travel ban issued during the Friday morning commute, just minutes before 79-mph winds hit the region. Brown said Friday that the city is “absolutely” equipped to handle the snow from a storm of this size, but also said, “the city’s snow plan is not for the storm.” It addresses normal snowfall. “

In an interview, Buffalo City Council member Rasheed Wyatt said he didn’t want to “point the finger” but acknowledged that the storm showed the need for a review of city planning. He noted that no changes were made after a major snowstorm in November.

“We’ve got to learn some lessons from what happened,” Wyatt said, adding: “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime storm. But I’m not just going to put it all on top. There are some things we could have done better. it is good.”

Asked why the travel ban was not issued earlier, Poloncarz said Officials weighed forecasts that the storm belt would not strike until mid-morning against the need for night shift workers to be able to return home. “If anyone is going to be blamed, you can blame me,” he said. “I’m the one who has to make the final decision on behalf of the county.”

The driving ban in Buffalo is expected to last at least until Thursday morning, officials said, but they are concerned that many residents have missed the ban, slowing cleanup efforts. City and county workers aim to open at least one lane on each street by Wednesday night, they said.

That timeline provided little comfort to Buffalo residents, who were still snowbound nearly a week after the storm and frustrated with not being able to drive to buy groceries or medicine. In the La Salle neighborhood of Buffalo’s East Side, the streets remained nearly impassable Wednesday afternoon. Residents were shoveling snow after a day of intense heat, which is now dense and thick.

Kazi Mohammad was using a snow blower on the driveway of his rental property, which was trapped by a four-foot snowdrift that had been dumped there by a front-end loader. Mohammad, a nonprofit director, said he didn’t see any snow cleared from the streets until late Tuesday.

“I don’t think the city has been prepared for a snowstorm like this,” Mohammad said.

On the street, Jesse and Nadine Mitchell cleared snow around their cars after clearing the driveway. Trucks, SUVs and the occasional car drive along a narrow path carved through the snow.

Nadine Mitchell raised her voice as she recounted her displeasure with the administration’s response, blaming Brown and the governor. Kathy Hochul (D).

“They’ve known for a week that this storm was coming,” she said. “Then why don’t you have the National Guard already in place?”

Mitchell says it’s always the poorest neighborhoods that get cleaned up last — like hers.

“As taxpayers, as homeowners, how do we always end up being dug up?” she said.

With temperatures rising into the 40s, county officials said Wednesday they were now preparing for possible flooding from melting snow, though they said it was unlikely to cause a problem.

Buffalo Police Chief Joseph Gramaria said authorities were still responding to numerous reports of robberies.Authorities arrested nine suspects on Tuesday, he said, describing “shelves, cash registers, stuff that was absolutely destroyed. This is unnecessary. Honestly, it’s disgusting. “

At least 34 people were killed in the storm in the county, including 26 in Buffalo, Poloncarz said. Buffalo officials said 28 people died within city limits; it was unclear why the numbers were different.

Officials warned that more victims may be found. National Guard members began spreading out Wednesday, going door-to-door to check on residents of communities without power, Poloncarz said.

“We are concerned that someone may have died, including one person, or someone who has performed poorly in the institution, especially those who are still without power,” Poloncarz said.

Among the dead was lifelong resident and retired truck driver William Clay. According to his sister, Sophia Clay, he took the threat of the storm very seriously, having seen first-hand how the weather in the city on the edge of Lake Erie could go from cold stillness to blinding, violent and deadly snow in an instant.

The last time Sophia Clay spoke to her brother was at midnight on Saturday morning — Christmas Eve — when she called to wish him a happy 56th birthday. “He sounded happy,” she said. “He told me he loved me and he would see me soon.”

Moments later, the family believes, Clay walked to a nearby convenience store to buy last-minute supplies. A relative who arrived at Clay’s home that night found the house empty and notified other family members.

Worried Sophia Clay posted a message on Facebook asking neighbors to take care of her brother. Hours later, the family noticed a photo circulating on social media of a man lying face down in the snow at her brother’s house. She knew it was him: she recognized his coat.

Sophia Clay said she called Buffalo police. “They said they were on their way,” she said. But hours later, the family was horrified to see new photos of the body still there. “Hours and hours, he just lay there,” she said.

The family felt very helpless. Driving is prohibited. Growing disbelief that local officials would respond, Clay’s relatives began to find ways to collect his body themselves.

Clay’s body was finally found late Saturday night or early Sunday morning. While his older sister identified her younger brother through a photo of a tattoo on his arm, the family still couldn’t get to the medical examiner’s office to see the body in person.

“I think he got caught up by the storm and just got lost,” Sophia Clay said. “That’s the only thing I can think of because he knows how bad these storms are. He knows to be afraid.”

Distressingly, her brother is dressed to suit the elements. She confirmed through the coroner that her brother was wearing a coat and several layers of clothing. He is wearing a hat. “It’s not enough,” she said.

Brianna Sacks contributed reporting.

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