Thousands more flights were canceled in the United States on Wednesday as the country tries to recover from a super blizzard that has already killed 59 people. Erie County officials in western New York state raised the death toll in the region worst hit by the historic winter storm to 37, bringing the nation’s total to 59.
Work continues 24 hours a day to restore power to the county’s main city, Buffalo. As of Wednesday, 500 residents were still without power, according to a tweet from the city’s mayor Byron Brown. Another type of crisis was occurring at the nation’s airports, such as Southwest Airlines, which in recent days had to cancel thousands more flights in an attempt to stem a spiral of logistical problems.
The airline’s problems left thousands of users stranded, as well as pilots and flight attendants. Videos on social media show bags queuing at Southwest Airlines kiosks at airports in various cities.
Donald Snyder, an airline customer, was in line with 40 other people at the airline’s baggage counter. “I didn’t come earlier because it looked like a big disaster. But I expect to get my bag back today,” he said from the Baltimore airport three days after his flight to Indianapolis was canceled.
Another passenger in Baltimore, waiting in a line of about 50 people, told AFP she was hoping to get a car seat for her two-month-old baby.
The storm, which hit the United States just before the Christmas holiday weekend, one of the wettest of the year, brought extremely low temperatures to much of the country, including southern states like Texas and Florida.
On Wednesday, temperatures remained near normal, including in Buffalo. The city on the shores of Lake Erie, near the Canadian border, had the most deaths from the storm. Officers found bodies in their cars or on the streets, some after waiting for hours to be extricated.
“At this point, there are several unidentified bodies,” Erie County Sheriff Mark Poloncarz said on Twitter. “I express my deepest condolences and sympathies to all who have lost their loved ones in this terrible blizzard.”
Driving restrictions remain in effect this Wednesday in Buffalo. The National Guard will go door-to-door in areas without power to make sure residents are safe, the official tweeted.
Officials are also preparing for a major storm, the ultimate crisis after large amounts of snow melt. In anticipation of temperatures reaching 10 degrees Celsius on Friday, New York State Governor Cathy Hochul ordered the deployment of bombs and sandbags in the event of “potentially dangerous flood conditions”.
Southwest Airlines, far from solving its problems, canceled more than 2,500 flights on Wednesday, representing nearly 90% of all canceled in the country, according to the specialty site FlightAware.
In a series of media briefings, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg told Southwest chief executive Bob Jordan that the government would “hold them accountable” by requiring the airline to compensate customers. Jordan apologized in a video message: “We’re doing everything we can to get back to normal… We’re so sorry.”
*With inputs from AFP.