BUFFALO, N.Y. — Hundreds of cold and hungry motorists spent hours Thursday stranded on a western New York highway after an accident caused a backup and the idling trucks and cars got stuck in heavy snow.
A Lake Erie-fed storm that began Wednesday and continued through Thursday buried parts of Buffalo and some suburbs under more than 2 feet of snow. Downtown Buffalo was largely spared. Dozens of schools canceled classes and more were scheduled to be closed on Friday.
Eleven dead as cold, ice and snow grip US
At least eleven deaths — including four people who died overnight in California — were blamed on the deep freeze that continued to grip the U.S. on Friday, canceling hundreds of flights and leaving tens of thousands of people without power.
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Police closed Interstate 90 about 3 a.m. Thursday after a truck jackknifed the previous evening and vehicles became backed up and buried in blowing snow, State Trooper Daniel Golinski said. Drivers also were stranded on a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 190.
Golinski described the scene overnight as "13 miles of bumper-to-bumper cars, two lanes each — three lanes each depending on where they are."
Though parts of I-90, better known as the New York Thruway, were reopened by midday, an 11-mile stretch remained closed as darkness fell. Traffic, mostly big rigs, was backed up for about two miles in the eastbound lanes and a mile headed west after sunset. Authorities expected it would take several more hours to clear the mess.
The snowfall was expected to stop early Friday after leaving another 4 to 8 inches, which would total up to 32 inches for some communities.
Jack Geiselman, who was stranded for 14 hours in 32-degree weather, took it all in stride.
"I tend not to be a ranter-and-raver about things and the point is, it's nothing I have any control over," the 60-year-old semi-retired civil engineer said. "I guess the way I look at it is, it's over. I guess stuff happens. It's not the end of the world."
Geiselman was traveling in a Honda Civic from Keene, N.Y., to Cleveland with his black lab Boomer to help his daughter get her house ready for a baby due between Christmas and New Year. He had with him a sleeping bag and plenty of warm clothing and gas. He said state troopers came by with coffee and food for people in cars.
Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars, and buses picked up motorists and delivered them to a shelter at a senior citizen center.
State Police had no reports of medical emergencies, although one older motorist who uses oxygen was among the stranded and was taken to safety, said Capt. Michael Nigrelli.
Not to be discouraged, two truck drivers who left their tandems idling in the morning tramped through the snow for about half a mile to pick up a breakfast sandwich and coffee off the highway. They seemed almost cheerful despite the hit on their livelihood.
"The wheels are not moving and we're making nothing," said Don Lanphere, 51, a trucker for 32 years who was hauling dog food. "The only guys making money are the plow operators."
"I had the radio on listening," said Curt Doverspike, 40, a trucker from Jamestown. "They said we should be getting out soon. Nothing ever happened so we just went to bed, woke up this morning. We're just kind of used to it."
He said regular travelers were venting their frustrations but the truck drivers were calmer.
"There's traffic jams, accidents all the time," Doverspike said. "You just get used to it. I guess it's easier for us than those in the cars because they get frustrated. We have a bed. If we get bored, we lay down and go to bed."
Nigrelli said the combination of fast-falling snow and the large number of commercial vehicles — many of which had to be towed out after the snow piled up around them — made re-opening the road slow-going.
"Unfortunately, that's not something that can be undone very quickly," he said.
Matt Welling was hauling a double tractor-trailer full of groceries when traffic came to a standstill. He spent the night "sitting back, playing a little Solitaire on the computer, taking a nap," the Wegmans driver said after more than eight hours stuck on the road.
"I'm pretty chilly, hungry. A nice cup of coffee would do pretty well right now," he said by cell phone.
Driving restrictions were in place in southern Buffalo and suburban Cheektowaga, Depew, Lancaster and West Seneca, where bands of snow hung stubbornly overhead.
A snow warning was in effect until late Thursday night, with several more inches possible before the storm was expected to drift south, meteorologists said. Additional snow was in Friday's forecast, though in lesser amounts.
In Cattaraugus County on New York's southwestern edge, flooding was the problem following heavy rain. Two emergency shelters were opened, in Olean and Portville, as the Allegheny River reached moderate flood stage. Between 50 and 100 homes were affected, said Stephanie Timblin, spokeswoman for the county's Office of Emergency Services.
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