10 Dead in Western New York Storm; NFL’s Buffalo Bills Game Moved to Detroit

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Harlem Street in the Buffalo suburb of West Seneca offers a glimpse of life under the deadly and monumental western New York snowstorm.

The extreme weather has claimed at least 10 lives -- its latest victims two people with mental health issues who died of apparent exposure overnight, Dr. Gale R. Burstein, Erie County health commissioner, said Thursday.

And the storm forced the NFL to announce that Sunday's game between Buffalo and the New York Jets, scheduled to be played at the Bills' Ralph Wilson Stadium, will be hosted at Detroit's Ford Field on Monday.

At the Winchester Volunteer Fire Company station on Harlem Street, as many as 40 people stranded in the snow have sought shelter since Tuesday. More than 6 feet of snow cover the streets. Abandoned cars are barely visible under the drifts.

Fire trucks can't leave the station. Attempts by firefighters to get out in an SUV were futile. One medic hopped on a snowmobile to rush to a call. Other volunteers jumped on ATVs to reach a home where the roof was buckling under the weight of the snow.

Maria Odom's two cats and a dog were rescued from the house.

"I'm ready for it to end," Odom, 38, said of the extreme weather. "I've lived here my whole life and I've never seen anything like this."

At the fire station, driver Steve Randall's truckload of milk and eggs has served as the main source of provisions. Randall said he was stuck in his truck for nearly five hours before making his way to the firehouse, where people have been sleeping on tables to stay off the cold floor.

"We've been eating like kings for a while but now we're running out of food," he said. Firehouse occupants have been making quiche, served with milk and bread from a store across the street.

From the Tops grocery store nearby, people hauling bags of food headed out into the snow by foot. One man dragged groceries in a sled; another pulled his child through the snow in a laundry basket. Robert Mead embarked on a five-mile trek to bring formula to his 9-month-old baby.

On Thursday afternoon, Erie County officials said there was a "significant threat of a roof collapse" at the 184-bed Garden Gate Health Care Facility in Cheektowaga. Residents reported wall cracks and a sagging ceiling. Several feet of snow piled on the roof.

Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, who had earlier tweeted that the roof was collapsing, later clarified the statement, saying beams in the building were twisted and walls cracked.

No injuries were reported and patients were evacuated. Residents were taken temporarily to a business park, said Scott Zylka with the Erie County Sheriff's Office, adding that the roof structure was compromised.

A year's snowfall in 3 days?

As if the situation weren't bad enough, Buffalo's southern suburbs expect up to 3 more feet by Thursday night.

Orchard Park, where the Buffalo Bills play, and East Aurora -- with 2 feet of fresh snow -- were the hardest hit. Snow was expected most of the night.

In East Aurora, Lisa Gutekunst's home was capped with more than 4 feet of snow, she said.

"The snow is coming down so hard you can't see out the window," she said. "We've cleared our driveway so many times that we've run out of places to put the snow."

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown announced a travel ban in south Buffalo for both cars and pedestrians from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m., citing the safety of residents as heavy equipment moved around town.

If the forecast holds, more than a year's worth of snow will have fallen in three days. In a typical year, Buffalo's snowfall totals about 7 feet, according to the National Weather Service.

The extreme conditions have led to tragedy.

Ten people have died, including four who suffered cardiac issues while they shoveled snow and one who died in a car accident, Erie County officials reported. A man in his 60s had a heart attack while he tried to move a snow plow or a snow blower, Erie County deputy executive Richard Tobe said.

Burstein told reporters that two residents of Niagara and Erie counties died overnight Thursday of apparent exposure.

"They both had chronic illnesses," she said. "They both had mental health issues, and were found outside either their home or a close friend's home. They had probably been there overnight."

In Alden, a 46-year-old man was found dead inside a car buried in 12 to 15 feet of snow. In Genesee County, Jack Boyce, a 56-year-old county employee, died after collapsing Tuesday morning while operating a snow blower outside the county sheriff's office, according to County Manager Jay Gsell.

Brown and city officials recounted stories of rescuers trudging around snowdrifts as high as houses to get people to hospitals, and police officers delivering special baby formula to a pair of infants.

Buffalo prides itself as "The City of Good Neighbors," and Gov. Andrew Cuomo noted that it has "come together and shown a real sense of community and neighbor helping neighbor, which is always good to see."

A sporting chance

Wednesday night's football game between the University of Buffalo and Kent State was postponed because the visitors' equipment truck didn't arrive on time. The game has been tentatively rescheduled for Friday, school officials said in a statement.

The National Football League announced it would move Sunday's game from Ralph Wilson Stadium, which was buried in an estimated 220,000 tons of snow.

The NFL statement said the contest will be played Monday at Ford Field, which in 2010 played host to a Minnesota Vikings game after the roof of their stadium collapsed due to snow accumulation.

Moving the game back a day will help the Bills, who haven't been able to practice this week.

The team had been offering tickets to the game and $10 an hour to anyone willing to help remove the snow. Now it is offering refunds to fans who purchased tickets through the team.

Earlier, the governor and the Erie County executive said it would be impractical to play.

"Everybody wants to make sure that public safety comes first," Cuomo told reporters.

Snow removal crews will get some help from the forecast.

Temperatures are expected to climb higher than the freezing point on Saturday and reach the 50s on Sunday, the National Weather Service said. But rain is also likely.

"That would be a terrible thing," CNN severe weather expert Chad Myers said. "If it rains -- and it probably will at least on the weekend -- all of that snow is not going to melt right away. That snow is going to hold that rain in and then that snow on top is going to get heavier and heavier."

And that could stress buildings already laden with several feet of snow. Officials also warned of the possibility of flooding over the weekend as temperatures rise and snow thaws.