On Friday afternoon, Abdul Sharif left his home in Buffalo, New York, to go to the market to buy milk for his two young children. He wasn’t going far when his car got stuck in one of the deadliest snowstorms in the city’s history.
Sharif, a 26-year-old Congolese refugee, climbed into a Toyota RAV4 whose tank was running out of petrol and called a friend to explain his plight, said Congolese community leader Eriksson Kizza. Told. Dressed only in a light tracksuit, Sharif told his friends he was afraid he would freeze if the heat stopped when the gas ran out. Waiting for him at home was his wife, nine months pregnant.
Kizah said Sharif had two options.
he chose the latter. A few hours later, Mr. Kiza said, he was found face down in the snow, alive but barely breathing. Death was confirmed a few hours later.
Near his car was a police station and a train station, as well as some buildings.
“I don’t know why he didn’t go in there,” Ms. Kiza said.
The once-in-a-generation storm that hit the Buffalo area late last week arrived with such speed and ferocity that there was little room for human error.
For many, the consequences of small decisions such as whether to stay in or get out of their car, pack a blanket, or charge their phones quickly grow, turning dozens of drivers and pedestrians like Mr. Sharif into life or death. jeopardized. Status. Many of them turned out not to have the resources or the preparation to manage them.
Under extreme weather conditions, such as during a blizzard, a healthy, reasonably fit adult wearing typical winter gear may be unable to continue moving in 20 to 30 minutes, says a former buffalo. Fire Chief Garnell Whitfield said. And in such situations, he said, it’s easy to get confused or lost. Your ability to make clear, rational decisions can quickly decline.
“Then it gets crap,” said Mr. Whitfield.
As of noon Thursday, 39 people were declared dead as a result of the storm. Seventeen people were found outside and four inside the vehicle. Officials believe more cars are being dug out of snowdrifts, some reaching 10 feet in height, likely increasing the death toll.
For those stranded on the road, the decision to move away from the stranded vehicle carried significant risks.
But staying in a stalled car brought its own risks.
Ander Nicole Taylor, 22, was driving home from work as a nursing home assistant on Friday afternoon when her 2004 Nissan Altima was buried in snow, her mother Wanda Brown Steel said.
Taylor called emergency services, but her mother said no help had arrived. She wore light blue scrubs and crocs and had no warm clothes.
Taylor communicated with the sisters on a group chat and posted a video on Facebook of the view from the car tumbling out of the ice-covered windows, her mother said. There was a van a few feet away with flashing hazard lights.
A few hours later, Taylor told the sisters that she would stay in the car until it ran out of gas and go to a shelter if help didn’t come.
She didn’t stand a chance. Ms. Steele said snow accumulated and blocked her exhaust pipe, and she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. Steele said her daughter was found lying in the driver’s seat with her arms crossed over her chest and her feet on the dashboard.
“The carbon dioxide put her to sleep and she never woke up,” Steele said.
Garrett Cleversley, a volunteer fire chief in Crittenden, about 20 miles from Buffalo, where he assisted in the rescue effort, said someone ignored the driving ban that went into effect at 9:30 a.m. Friday. By 10 a.m., whiteout conditions had blanketed the area, with clashes becoming commonplace, disrupting traffic, blocking roads and paralyzing first responders.
Erie County Deputy Sheriff Jean Natty, 48, said she couldn’t see the edge of the police car’s hood during the storm. His partner, who was driving, poked his head out the window to see, and suffered burns to his face, which later turned out to be frostbite. According to Nati, they lost their sense of direction many times and eventually veered off the road.
Dispatch sent them in search of stranded cars occupied by people who reported they were running out of fuel and needed help. When they arrived many of the cars they arrived in were empty.
Some, like Taylor and Sharif, were killed or found near buildings that had been closed, but had heat and power inside.
Others who survived the storm seemed to get along with a little ingenuity and more than obvious luck.
Jay Withey, a 27-year-old mechanic, said he was headed to Buffalo Friday afternoon after a friend called him to tell him he was stuck in the snow and needed help.
Mr Withey got stuck. When dawn dawned and he realized he was in danger, he knocked on the doors of about ten houses and asked if he could sleep on the floor until the snowstorm passed. He said he put the dollar in his wallet, but no one let him stay.
He got back in the truck and started the engine intermittently. A few hours later, a hospital housekeeper, Mary Ross, whose nearby van is stuck in snow, knocks on her window. She’s running low on gas in her van. can she join him?
“He said come in,” said Ross.
As dawn approached and fuel levels began to run low, Withey stepped into a nearby Chevrolet Equinox half-buried in snow and knocked on the driver’s window. Antonio DeAmiglio, 55, was sitting inside. He was stuck in the car to meet his wife at his job. Mr. DeAmiglio, a Homeland Security official, was also out of gas and weighing his options.
“I thought that if all these vehicles ran out of gas, we would all be dead,” he said.
When Mr. Withy explained his plans for the adventure, Mr. Deamiro agreed to go with him.
The two walked quickly through the waist-deep snow and headed for a nearby school. Two people entered the vehicle after Withey smashed the window with a set of brake pads from the truck.
The men brought Ross to school. They knocked on nearby car windows and helped others to school.
Addie Johnson, 72, and her son DeMario, 50, were nearby with their dog in a Toyota Highlander. They were on their way to visit DeMario’s son when they got stuck around 4:30 pm on Friday. They started the engine and prayed all night long. When the battery died, Mr. Johnson said he asked God for help.
Around 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Mr. Withey knocked on the window and helped DeMario to school while he carried the dog. Withey was the answer to her prayers, Johnson said.
Inside the school, Mr. Withey and Mr. DeAmiglio broke the lock on the cafeteria door and took out apples, cereal and milk. They found a blanket from the nurses station. They headed across the street to houses that had lost power, and some of those residents joined them at school.
Write to Douglas Belkin at Doug.Belkin@wsj.com.
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