A travel ban has been lifted in New York’s Erie County, days after it was put into place as a deadly blizzard swept across the region, at times reducing visibility to zero.
The ban, which was implemented Friday, expired at 12:01 a.m. Thursday, officials said.
Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown told reporters Wednesday night that the roads were in good enough condition to lift the ban.
“It has been 6 days,” Brown said. “Some people have not been able to restock groceries, to restock medications, to get to medical appointments, and being able to lift the travel ban safely now will allow people to do those important things.”
Most streets in the city are passable, Brown said, and he expected crews to have made a pass down the center of every residential street by the end of the night.
Though the ban has been lifted, a travel advisory was in place for Erie County as cleanup continues and a county-wide state of emergency remained. Brown asked people to be cautious and avoid driving unless necessary.
More than 450 pieces of equipment were on Buffalo streets plowing and hauling snow, and many traffic signals were still not working, he said.
The storm dumped upwards of 20 inches of snow in parts of New York — including nearly 52 inches at Buffalo Niagara International Airport, according to the National Weather Service.
The powerful storm plunged much of the United States into a deep freeze, creating life-threatening conditions as more than 1 million homes and businesses were left in the dark, and wreaking havoc on flight schedules during the busy holiday travel week.
At least 76 people died in the storm, according to an NBC News tally. Erie County accounted for 37 of the deaths, 29 of which were in Buffalo.
Weather-related deaths were also reported in Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Ohio, Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, Michigan, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Illinois and Vermont.
In Buffalo, officials said it was possible the number could rise.
Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia said Wednesday night that police have cleared the backlog of calls relating to welfare checks, stranded motorists and reports of bodies.
Search and rescue teams were returning Thursday to check locations where bodies had been reported but could not be confirmed — either because of the amount of snow or the vagueness of location, Gramaglia said.
“We believe there were some credible 911 calls that contained more information … low single digit numbers, that’s again why we’re going to concentrate our efforts on hitting those areas,” he told reporters.
Several people died because of a delay receiving emergency services or from cardiac events related to shoveling or blowing snow. Of the deaths, nine were people who died because they had no heat in their homes, he said.
Poloncarz said in a tweet Wednesday night that 500 National Guard members have conducted nearly 850 welfare checks on residents who had longterm power outages.
Power was being restored to New York, and by early Thursday, about 400 customers in the state were without electricity, according to PowerOutage.us.
In Buffalo, where more than 20,000 customers were without power at one point during the storm, only three had no electricity Wednesday night, according to Brown, the mayor.
On Wednesday, city offices, facilities and roadways opened, as temperatures rose into the 40s across parts of New York.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said Wednesday night that all major state highways in western New York, including the Erie County portion of Interstate 190 and several state routes, would reopen at midnight.
“I am extremely grateful to all the highway maintenance workers, first responders and emergency service staff who continue to work tirelessly to help their fellow New Yorkers,” Hochul said in a statement.
The temperature is expected to continue climbing to the low-50s in the Buffalo region by Friday, and will help melt the accumulated snow, according to the National Weather Service.
Gemma DiCasimirro, Julianne McShane and Kathryn Prociv contributed.