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Death toll from winter storm rises, power outages continue

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(NewsNation) — At least 37 people are dead after a winter storm swept much of the U.S. in the days leading up to Christmas.

Seventeen of the storm deaths were reported in New York, where blizzard conditions buried Buffalo in snow, leaving residents stuck in vehicles and trapped in freezing homes. Emergency vehicles were also trapped by the snow, with crews bailing out and unable to respond to calls for help as ambulances and firetrucks were stuck in snow drifts and whiteout conditions.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said almost every fire truck in the city was stranded Saturday and implored people Sunday to respect an ongoing driving ban in the region. Officials said the airport would be shut through Tuesday morning. The National Weather Service said the snow total at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport stood at 43 inches at 7 a.m. Sunday.

Huge snowdrifts nearly covered cars and there were thousands of houses, some adorned in unlit holiday displays, dark from a lack of power.

With snow swirling down untouched and impassable streets, forecasters warned an additional 1 to 2 feet of snow was possible in some areas through early Monday morning amid wind gusts of 40 mph. Police said Sunday evening that there were two “isolated” instances of looting during the storm.

Two people died in their suburban Cheektowaga, New York, homes Friday when emergency crews could not reach them in time to treat their medical conditions. Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said 10 more people died there during the storm, including six in Buffalo, and warned there may be more dead.

“Some were found in cars, some were found on the street in snowbanks,” Poloncarz said. “We know there are people who have been stuck in cars for more than 2 days.”

Additional cold-related deaths were reported in Colorado, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Ohio, where nine people died as a result of weather-related car crashes.

The extreme weather stretched from the Great Lakes near Canada to the Rio Grande along the border with Mexico. About 60% of the U.S. population faced some sort of winter weather advisory or warning, and temperatures plummeted drastically below normal from east of the Rocky Mountains to the Appalachians.

The storm also plunged hundreds of thousands of Americans into darkness as power outages spread across the country thanks to high winds and ice.

From Seattle to Maine, 2 million homes and businesses lost power. Crews worked to restore power over the holiday, even under snowy and dangerous conditions.

The weather has also continued to snarl travel plans for those returning home. Thousands of flights were canceled from Friday through Sunday, leaving people unable to make it home or scrambling for alternative routes. Some travelers even found themselves spending Christmas in a hotel or the airport, unable to reach their final destination.

Airlines are dealing with this storm on top of staffing shortages.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.