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Dozens have died in the Buffalo area as National Guard begins door-to-door checks

National Grid workers respond to a downed utility pole in Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday. The monster storm that killed dozens in the United States over the Christmas weekend continued to inflict misery on New York state and air travelers nationwide.
Joed Viera
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AFP via Getty Images
National Grid workers respond to a downed utility pole in Buffalo, N.Y., on Tuesday. The monster storm that killed dozens in the United States over the Christmas weekend continued to inflict misery on New York state and air travelers nationwide.

As many parts of the country begin to deal with the wreckage of the winter storm, the death toll has risen to more than 50 — and more than half are from western New York.

At least 34 people have died in Erie County — which includes Buffalo — because of the storm, authorities reported Wednesday. Most deaths occurred in the city of Buffalo while seven were found in suburbs, Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference. Three of the dead have not been identified yet.

The National Guard began conducting door-to-door wellness checks Wednesday morning in neighborhoods that lost power, Poloncarz said. The checks will continue for 48 hours.

"We are fearful that there are individuals who may have perished living alone or two people who are not doing well in an establishment, especially those that still don't have power," Poloncarz said.

Sixty-five percent of all city streets have at least one lane available for passage. Erie County hopes to clear at least one lane in all city roads for emergency travel by the end of the day, Poloncarz said.

Laura Robinson (right) and Marty Dickinson of shovel out their car from a pile of snow on Wednesday in Buffalo, N.Y.
Mike Groll / Getty Images
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Getty Images
Laura Robinson (right) and Marty Dickinson of shovel out their car from a pile of snow on Wednesday in Buffalo, N.Y.

The worst of the storm seems to have passed, as temperatures in Buffalo rose to 40 degrees Wednesday afternoon and are expected to reach the low 50s by Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

Those with power outages of 72 hours or more in New York are eligible for reimbursements for spoiled food or prescription medication. People must request reimbursements to power companies like National Grid within 14 days of the outage, Poloncarz said.

Questions are emerging about the city's storm preparations and the timing of Erie County's travel ban last Friday. Poloncarz issued the ban at 9:30 a.m. due to the winter storm, but families of the deceased are asking why the ban didn't go out earlier. Temperatures had already dropped dramatically, and rain turned to snow.

"If anyone is to be blamed, you can blame me," Poloncarz said Wednesday. "I'm the one that has to make the final call on behalf of the county."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ashley Ahn
Ashley Ahn is an intern for the Digital News and Graphics desks. She previously covered the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines for CNN's health and medical unit and the trial of Ahmaud Arbery's killers for CNN's Atlanta News Bureau. She also wrote pieces for USA TODAY and served as the Executive Editor of her college's student newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian. Recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Ahn is pursuing a master's degree in computer science at Columbia University.