Families in western New York were scrambling to find food, medicine and other essentials Monday after a historic blizzard blocked roads and cut off electricity, forcing many major supermarkets and pharmacies to close.
In Buffalo, where at least 18 people have died, the two largest supermarket chains have been closed since Friday as the latest forecast called for another 6 to 12 inches of snow.
“There are no stores open. It’s whatever you can grab,” said Scott McCandless, 54, who lives in Orchard Park, a suburb southeast of Buffalo.
Surrounded by snow Sunday night, McCandless ate a bowl of generic cinnamon toast crunch for Christmas dinner. In the morning, he grew concerned as his supply of bread and eggs dwindled and his number of cans of meatball soup fell to three.
“I was just getting low, and I was just getting nervous,” he said.
When his driveway was finally plowed at 9 a.m., McCandless set out looking for open supermarkets. “I drove 3 miles, then 5 miles in my car and nothing was open,” he said. “I gave up.”
At Salvatore’s Garden Place Hotel, less than 3 miles from the Buffalo Niagara International Airport, the food supply is shrinking as the hotel serves three meals a day to more than 80 guests.
“We are trying to survive as much as we can,” said Leven Oxmaul, a front desk agent, who has been snowed in since Thursday.
“We are kind of running out of food,” Oxmaul said, adding that there are no more snacks or drinks at the hotel’s gift shop. “It’s really frustrating. The guests as well are losing their patience. We can’t go anywhere. We’re buried in the snow.”
The “once-in-a-lifetime” blizzard — which killed at least 57 people nationwide, including 27 in western New York’s Erie County — has left many in dire predicaments.
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Desperate pleas from Buffalo residents have flooded Facebook groups dedicated to storm recovery.
One person asked for spare diapers for twin infants, and another for cold medicine for a sick toddler. Multiple people made urgent requests for baby formula.
"Running really low on food, been stuck in our house," wrote one Buffalo resident with four small children. "Slightly starting to panic when I looked outside and seen it snowing more."
It's unclear when major supermarkets in the Buffalo area will reopen.
On Monday, snow continued to blanket Erie County, leaving roads in many areas impassable, including the majority of Buffalo, County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference.
About 10,000 people were still without power in Buffalo on Monday afternoon, Mayor Byron Brown said.
Poloncarz said he hoped some of the suburbs would be able to lift driving bans Tuesday, allowing Tops Friendly Markets and Wegmans Food Markets to resume business.
In the meantime, Poloncarz said supermarkets have been allowed to get replacement shipments while officials were coordinating food transports to shelters, emergency responders and people stuck inside who may be running out of food.
“That is a concern we are working on,” Poloncarz said. “I do feel for the folks out there. You do have my deepest, deepest apologies.”
All Tops locations in Niagara County are currently open, the supermarket chain said. But at least 20 stores in the rest of Erie County were still closed Monday afternoon.
Wegmans did not immediately respond.
County and state officials said the devastation of the blizzard was not yet behind them.
“We know that the storm is coming back,” New York Gov. Kathy Hochul said. “So anyone who declares victory and says it’s over, it is way too early to say."