President Biden has approved an emergency declaration for western New York as the state deals with a massive winter storm that has claimed more than two dozen lives.
Biden issued an emergency declaration on Monday for Erie and Genesee counties, freeing up federal resources and directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate relief efforts.
The president had spoken with New York Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) earlier in the day and offered to fully support the state as it responds to the storm, the White House said in a readout of the call.
Hochul, who had declared a state of emergency in New York last Thursday ahead of the storm, said Biden agreed to “swiftly approve” the state’s request for a federal declaration, calling it “crucial to assist our recovery efforts from this historic storm.”
“The President shared that his and the First Lady’s prayers are with the people of New York and all those who lost loved ones. He expressed his gratitude to the Governor for her leadership and to the National Guard, law enforcement, and first responders for their tireless work,” the White House said in a statement.
The death toll from the storm in New York hit 28 on Monday, according to The Associated Press, representing roughly half of the total fatalities attributed to the Christmas weekend storm that swept across the country.
Many of the deaths in New York are in Erie County, around Buffalo.
“I am sad to announce that our City has lost at least 20 members of our community due to the winter storm. Everyone please continue to be safe,” Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown tweeted on Monday.
Eighteen storm-related deaths were confirmed over the weekend across Erie and Niagara counties, local outlet WIVB reported, before topping two dozen on Monday.
As much as 49 inches of snow have been reported in some areas of western New York as of Monday afternoon, with local authorities warning of more on the way.
“This is a major disaster that in some ways may turn out to be worse than the blizzard of ’77,” Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference on Sunday.
Some people were stranded in their vehicles for more than two days while others have faced below-freezing temperatures in their homes, Poloncarz said.
The city has told residents to keep cars off roads as responders try to rescue motorists still stranded. The governor has also deployed more than 400 National Guard troops to western New York to assist with relief efforts.
“While we continue to do everything we can to help Western New York recover and await federal assistance, I want everyone in impacted areas to continue to stay off the roads and check in on loved ones and neighbors,” Hochul said in a statement.
Around 10,000 Buffalo residents are still without power, Brown said Monday, down from a peak of around 20,000.
A winter weather advisory for the area in western New York remains in effect until 1 p.m. ET on Tuesday, according to the National Weather Service.
Hochul has called it the “most devastating storm in Buffalo’s long, storied history” and said the state is at “war with Mother Nature.”
Julia Mueller contributed.
This story was updated at 10 p.m.