BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — A ferocious lake-effect storm left the Buffalo area buried under 6 feet of snow by Wednesday, trapping people on highways and in homes, and another storm expected to drop 2 to 3 feet more was on its way.
Even hardened Buffalo residents were caught off guard by the early-season storm that was expected to end by Wednesday afternoon. The storm came in so fast and furious it trapped more than 100 vehicles on a 132-mile stretch of the state Thruway in western New York that remained closed Wednesday.
Snow plunged off one family's roof with such force that it blew in the back door, filling a room with snow.
"It was a huge crash. We all started running back there. We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house," said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard, who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children's friends Tuesday. "We were definitely not expecting it to be the doors blown out, the frame, everything, inside the house."
The snowstorm shifted slightly into Buffalo's northern suburbs Wednesday morning, giving the hardest hits areas a bit of a reprieve, but forecasters said a second round of lake-effect snow could deliver an additional 2 feet or more into Thursday.
Cold weather enveloped the entire country Tuesday, leading to record-low temperatures more familiar to January than November. Racing winds and icy roads caused accidents, school closings and delays in municipal operations from the Midwest to the South even where snowfall was low or mercifully absent.
The storm was blamed for five western New York deaths, three of them heart attacks. Erie County officials said a 46-year-old man was discovered early Wednesday in his car, which was in a ditch and buried in snow in the town of Alden, 24 miles east of Buffalo. It was unclear how he died.
Two other deaths were reported in New Hampshire and Michigan.
"We have tried to get out of our house, and we are lucky to be able to shovel so we can open the door," said Linda Oakley of Buffalo. "We're just thinking that in case of an emergency we can at least get out the door. We can't go any further."
Members of the Niagara University's women's basketball team were among those trapped on the Thruway. Stranded since 1 a.m. Tuesday, team members tweeted photos of a plow starting to clear the road. State troopers picked them up early Wednesday morning and brought them to a nearby police station where another bus was waiting to take them back to campus, Niagara guard Tiffany Corselli said.
"It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn't feel like it was going to end," Bryce Foreback, 23, of Shicora, Pennsylvania, told The Associated Press by cellphone 20 hours into his wait for help. "I haven't slept in like 30 hours and I'm just waiting to get out of here."
Foreback had become stuck in a long line of cars near the Lackawanna toll booths just south of Buffalo about 10:30 Monday night.
Officials with the Thruway Authority and state police did not provide information on how many people remained stranded Wednesday morning.
The lake-effect snow created a stark divide: In downtown Buffalo and north of the city, there was a mere dusting of precipitation, while in the south parts, snow was everywhere. The snow band that brought the snow was very much evident throughout the day as gray clouds persistently hovered over the southern part of the city. The band was so apparent, that the wall of snow could be seen from a mile away.
Amtrak passenger train service between Albany and the Buffalo area remained suspended Wednesday. Dozens of schools canceled classes for a second day.
In a region accustomed to highway-choking snowstorms, this one is being called one of the worst in memory.
In New Hampshire and elsewhere, icy roads led to accidents. Lake-effect storms in Michigan produced gale-force winds and as much as 18 inches of snow, and canceled several flights at the Grand Rapids airport.
Schools closed in the North Carolina mountains amid blustery winds and ice-coated roads. In Indiana, three firefighters were hurt when a semitrailer hit a fire truck on a snowy highway.
In Atlanta, tourists Morten and Annette Larsen from Copenhagen were caught off-guard by the 30-degree weather as they took photos of a monument to the 1996 summer Olympics at Centennial Olympic Park.
"It's as cold here as it is in Denmark right now. We didn't expect that," Larsen said, waving a hand over his denim jacket, buttoned tightly over a hooded sweatshirt.