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Live blogging the winter storm

9:23 p.m.: The lake-effect snow warning is now only in place for Southern Erie County.

--T.J. Pignataro

8:32 p.m.: The Associated Press provides this interactive look at lake-effect snow and the process by which it forms.

7:43 p.m.: Some schools have already announced they will be closed Friday. Here is a list.

7:15 p.m.:The News' Robert J. McCarthy breaks down what officials and others are saying about the evacuation and road closing plans that led to a number of stranded motorists.

6 p.m.: Ohio Street in South Buffalo is open from Michigan Avenue to Fuhrmann Boulevard.

Southbound traffic on Fuhrmann and Route 5 were both inching forward at a slow but steady pace about 10 minutes ago.

--DJG

5:52 p.m.: While motorists were leaving their stranded vehicles in the Southtowns, the sun was shining in many parts of Niagara County. A short blast of heavy snow caused a few fender benders Wednesday afternoon, but by this morning the roads were down to bare pavement.

The snow started falling lightly again about 8 a.m., said Michael F. Tracy, deputy commissioner of the county Public Works Department.

"After that, we got a couple, 3 inches," he said. "Right around noon, it stopped. ... All the guys were finished up on their plow routes and left at their normal shift. My counterpart in the Town of Porter said they only got about an inch on the grass."

Tracy said his department was not asked to help out in Erie County.

--Nancy A. Fischer

5:45 p.m.: It looks like the 400 is open near Transit -- there are definitely cars driving on it. Once I got past French Road heading south on Transit, things really started moving well. Once Transit becomes Southwestern near the Orchard Park line, the road was clear and the drive was even better. The snow is falling very lightly -- if at all -- in Orchard Park right now.

--JR

5:37 p.m.: Some drivers stuck on side streets today have had a long wait for help.

Jasmine Morales, 29, was in her boyfriend's car on Ridge Road in Lackawanna when the two got stuck behind a tandem tracter-trailer that blocked the road for about 45 minutes. While they were waiting for the road to clear, the battery in the car died.

They waited in the cold for another two hours before they found someone with jumper cables.

"We asked about 20 people, and they all said no," said Morales, a Lackawanna resident.

They tried calling a roadside assistance service and had little luck.

"They estimated the wait at 12 hours," Morales said.

--DJG

5:26 p.m.: Several tractor-trailers are stopped on South Park Avenue near McKinley Parkway in the neighborhood of the former OLV Hospital.

Traffic is flowing toward Seneca Street, which is now open in both directions.

--T.J. Pignataro

5:25 p.m.: There is a steady stream of traffic heading south on Route 5 near the Ridge Road exit. Vehicles are moving at about 5 mph. 

An earlier backup on Ridge Road near Steelawanna Avenue has cleared.

--DJG

5:24 p.m.: I'm headed south on Transit Road on the border of Cheektowaga and Lancaster. It has been slow going, but the roads are pretty good. Traffic is moving. I probably went two and a half miles in 20 minutes. I'm just past Losson Road. It seems like a lot of people have thought of this route, but it's not too bad. The roads are better than they were this morning.

--JR

4:59 p.m.: All motorists stranded on the Thruway are expected to evacuated by tonight, according to State Police Capt. Michael P. Nigrelli. A complete update is here.

4:53 p.m.: I headed out of downtown taking Broadway. I was fine -- not much snow -- until Bailey Avenue. The roads got congested when I got to Broadway and Borden. Drivers, likley headed toward Cheektowaga, making a right onto Borden have backed things up. Union Road didn't look too bad when I drove by, but I opted to avoid it based on congestion earlier in the day.

Right now I'm on Broadway in Depew, with an eye toward heading south.

--JR

4:49 p.m.: The scene downtown looking south: dark, snowy, slow. Vehicles are moving slowly in both directions on the Skyway, which remains open.

4:46 p.m.: Taking the Kensington from downtown to the mainline Thruway, it's smooth sailing. The ramp to the westbound Thruway is, of course, blocked. There is a bit of a delay -- nothing too unusual -- getting on the eastbound Thruway from the Kensington. Once you're on the eastbound Thruway, things are once again cruising along.

--AB

4:35 p.m.: Southbound traffic on Route 5 near Tifft Street is moving slowly at about 5 mph. 
Vehicles are still getting through on Fuhrmann Boulevard and are able to slowly move to South Park Avenue via Tifft Street or onto Route 5.

--DJG      

4:29 p.m.: After spending the past couple hours meandering east and south on the streets parallel to the stretch of the 190 east of downtown, it's clear that there are really no good options. But once I rerouted to head north, all surface streets were clear. I was able to make it to the Kensington -- which is also clear -- in no time.

--AB

4:20 p.m.: Neighbors in South Buffalo have been bailing each other out all day. 

Kelly Zabawa, 36, spent more than an hour stuck on Bloomfield Avenue this morning before several neighbors were able to dig her out. 

"I got stuck on my way to work, and being the city of good neighbors, about 10 people helped me out," said Zabawa, a Crystal Avenue resident. 

Tom Conrad, 49, spent the morning driving his wife and son to work.

"I don't mind the snow," he said, "but not all at once."

His son, Jeremy, had to walk the 5 miles home from his job as a welder at Metalico.

"I had to," said Jeremy Conrad, 20. "Every road was closed."

--DJG

4:16 p.m.: Traffic heading east on Tifft Street from Route 5 to South Park Avenue in South Buffalo is light and moving swiftly.

South Park, however, has a slushy layer of snow and residents report several backups in the South Buffalo area heading toward Lackawanna.

--DJG

4:14 p.m.: Traffic out of the city on Clinton and William streets is backed up to Fillmore Avenue. It took about 40 minutes to get from Smith and Exchange to Fillmore and Clinton.

So, in the end, it looks like any route from downtown to the Southtowns is a super-slow-go using city streets.The bumper-to-bumper traffic on Smith Street extends onto Fillmore.

And just a reminder -- don't block intersections. You're only slowing everyone else down.

--AB

4:09 p.m.: The city is turning to private contractors to help with the snow-fighting effort in South Buffalo.    

A spokesman for Mayor Byron W. Brown said 10 to 12 private plows are already at work clearing streets and another 10 to 15 are expected in the next few hours.    

"We understand people's frustration," said Brown spokesman Peter Cutler, "but right now, we just need everyone to cooperate."    

Cutler also responded to complaints from residents that the city was ill-prepared for today's storm and was late in declaring a driving ban.    

"Obviously, this is a challenging event," he said, "but it was made all the more challenging when the Thruway shut down."    

Cutler said the closing of the Thruway forced many motorists, many of them driving tractor-trailers, to get off the Thruway and attempt to get through the city using South Park Avenue and other South Buffalo streets.    

The result was a series of massive traffic tie-ups, which then made it even tougher for city snow plow crews to clear the streets.    

"Unfortunately, the falling snow doesn't wait for traffic to clear," said Cutler.    

He also insisted that the city's driving ban, which the mayor ordered at about 11:25 a.m, today, was adopted as soon as possible given the logistical requirements behind such a ban.    

-- PF 

3:53 p.m.: Go here for new photos of stranded motorists from Derek Gee.

WINTER STORM_001

3:46 p.m.:  For an on-the-scene glimpses of trucks stuck in the Thruway traffic jam, go to the state Thruway map.

The Thruway Authority has long posted these highway-camera views -- some are stationed on the medians. Storm interest today has led to an unusually high number of site hits.

To protect the system from overload, new images are now being posted every 60 seconds instead of the usual 10, said R.W. Groneman, a Thruway spokesman.

While some views show green grass and cars zipping down the road, one recent click on the camera site near West Seneca -- between Route 400 and Lackawanna -- had minute-by-minute images that fluctuated with the storm in progress. From a clear row of unmoving trucks to snow-obscured view with only the faintest outline of the rectangle vehicle frames.

"The cameras are out there primarily for traffic surveillance and traffic control," Groneman said. "Today we're looking at snow storms."

-- MK

3:40 p.m.: Commuters looking for a safe way to return home to the Southtowns this afternoon will find their usual menu of options severely limited.

"There's only one way -- Route 5," said Thomas George, executive director of the Niagara International Transportation Technology Coalition, or NITTEC.

The state Department of Transportation is working hard to keep the Skyway and Route 5 clear of snow in anticipation of a heavier-than-normal rush hour later today, George said.

The drive home for a lot of commuters who work in Buffalo has been complicated by the closing of the Niagara Thruway from Elm Street south to the mainline Thruway and the mainline Thruway from the Kensington Expressway west to Ridge Road.

NITTEC is made up of 14 transportation organizations in Western New York and Southern Ontario who work together to improve transportation systems on both sides of the border.

-- PF

3:38 p.m.: Right now I'm at Seneca and Smith. Traffic coming down Exchange toward Smith is backed up bumper-to-bumper as far as I can see. So basically, don't try Exchange Street as a route home at this time. I'm going to check out Clinton and William next.

--AB

3:30 p.m.: Count Patrick McGowan among the South Buffalo residents unhappy with the city's response to today's storm.

Chief among McGowan's complaints is what he described as the city's reluctance to adopt a driving ban earlier in the day. Mayor Byron W. Brown enacted a ban at about 11:25 a.m.

"My wife was listening to the scanner and the cops were calling for one at 8:30 or 9 this morning," said McGowan, who lives on McKinley Parkway.

He thinks an earlier ban would have kept more people off the streets and eased the traffic tie-ups that plagued much of South Buffalo this morning.

He described McKinley Parkway, one of South Buffalo's main arteries, as passable but said the side streets in his neighborhood remain clogged with snow.

-- PF     

3:26 p.m.: LACKAWANNA -- A tandem tractor-trailer is blocking Ridge Road near Steelawanna Avenue, completely blocking cars from traveling east as they exit Route 5. Two of the trucks I mentioned earlier are clear.

The bottom line: You can get off Route 5 at Ridge, but you can't get far on Ridge. 

And, to make matters worse, the traffic on Route 5 south is now much slower. Going north into the city, you're clear.

--DJG

3:15 p.m.: LACKAWANNA -- Three tractor-trailer trucks stuck at the interchange of Ridge Road and Route 5 have made it difficult for vehicles to move through the intersection. Traffic exiting Route 5 onto Ridge Road has slowed to a crawl. Another large truck is stuck at Ridge Road and Commerce Drive. This photo is of a truck at the base of the exit:

RIDGE

--DJG

3:12 p.m.: HEADED NORTH ON SMITH STREET -- It seems like Elk Street is totally blocked east of Smith Street. There's a series of tractor-trailers not moving -- they're either disabled or have nowhere to go. They have flashers on.

So if you're headed out of downtown this direction, it seems like there's no great route. I'll keep looking.

--AB

3:05 p.m.: NEAR THE 190 -- I'm at Smith Street heading toward Elk, and it's bumper-to-bumper in both directions.

--AB

2:58 p.m.: RIDGE ROAD EXIT OF ROUTE 5 IN LACKAWANNA -- Traffic is moving slowly but steadily on Route 5, about 30 mph, from downtown all the way to the Ridge Road exit in Lackawanna. It starts to slow down there -- that's where I got off. There is a disabled vehicle at this exit, and we're barely moving.

The stretch of road in front of the Small Boat Harbor and Gallagher Beach is opened, as of 3 p.m.Traffic is able to get on to Route 5 at Tifft Stret.

Where I am right now, in Lackawanna, snow is falling lightly.

--DJG

2:47 p.m.: If you're trying to get on the 190 South at Louisiana Street, don't bother. It's blocked.

--AB

2:45 p.m.: Drivers who had to abandon a vehicle on the Thruway, can call the state operations center for help retrieving their car at (800) 842-2233. Tolls will be waived for anyone who was caught in the storm and E-ZPass holders will have their accounts adjusted. Towing charges will also be covered by the Thruway Authority, said Betsy Feldstein, a spokeswoman.

"We're a 24-7 operation and we want to make sure that our motorists are safe," she said.

-- Michelle Kearns

2:43 p.m.: South Council Member Michael P. Kearns says his office is being deluged with complaints about the city's response to today's storm.

Most of the complaints are from people who live on side streets in South Buffalo or commuters who got stuck on their way to work, Kearns said.

"I'm getting inundated with calls," he said this afternoon. "I keep hearing from people, 'I haven't see a plow, I haven't seen a plow.' "

Kearns thinks the Brown administration was several hours late in declaring a driving ban and failed to allocate enough snow-fighting equipment and personnel in the first hours of the storm.

"We should have the personnel and equipment to fight this type of storm," he said of the limited sections of the city impacted by the storm. "If this spreads to the rest of the city, we're going to be in trouble."

Kearns said he may ask the Common Council to conduct an evaluation of the city's snow-fighting effort.

"Let's look at what they did and why they did it," he said.

-- PF

2:34 p.m.: Drivers who spent the night on the I-90 West describe their experiences to Denise Jewell Gee:

2:32 p.m.: As of this afternoon, the show will go on at most Western New York theater companies, where a number of productions are scheduled to play despite the blowing snow.

Two exceptions, so far, are Ujima Theatre Company, which canceled tonight’s production of “Murder Squared” and O’Connell and Company, which will postpone the debut of its Christmas show “Once Upon a Celtic Christmas” until Friday night. During storms in recent years, theaters in Buffalo have generally adhered to an unofficial policy of keeping their doors open unless a driving ban has been ordered on city streets.

--Colin Dabkowski

2:29 p.m.: "People need to know what the word ban means," Depew Mayor Barbara Alberti said.  

Depew, which declared a state of emergency at midnight, is considering extending its ban until 6 a.m. Friday, to give crews the opportunity to clear side streets.

The mayor has heard from residents that employers are telling them a driving ban in Depew "doesn't mean you can't drive to work."

She said vehicles have come onto village streets from the closed Thruway, found tough going and gone onto side streets where they have gotten stuck in the snow. There is an abandoned car outside Village Hall, and a tractor-trailer that got stuck on Broadway and Penora, she said.

"We're going to start ticketing and start having those cars towed," she said.

And the snow continues.

"This kind of reminds me of '77 when it just never stopped. I hope it doesn't get that bad," she said. 

"We're already thinking about where we can put the snow," she said.

--BO

2:23 p.m.: SOUTH BUFFALO -- Buffalo Police are rerouting traffic headed out of downtown on South Park Avenue up Smith Street. There is an NFTA bus and a tractor-trailer that appear to be disabled on South Park just beyond Smith. Police are also not allowing traffic to continue down Seneca Street past Smith. South Park Avenue has almost been plowed completely down to the pavement.

--AB

2:22 p.m.: Amid reports of patrol cars and other emergency vehicles getting stuck in snow-clogged streets, access to South Buffalo was cut off at the intersection of Clinton Street and Bailey Avenue shortly before 2 p.m., according to Buffalo police radio.

2:21 p.m.: A telling look at the National Weather Service afternoon forecast, by ZIP code:

-- 14092 (Lewiston): Partly sunny, with a high near 35. West wind around 14 mph.

-- 14120 (North Tonawanda): Mostly cloudy, with a high near 34. West wind between 9 and 11 mph.

-- 14226 (Snyder/Eggertsville): A chance of snow. Cloudy, with a high near 34. West wind around 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 50 percent. Total daytime snow accumulation of 2 to 4 inches possible.

-- 14086 (Lancaster): Snow, mainly before 5 p.m. The snow could be heavy at times. Some thunder is also possible. High near 34. West wind around 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 90 percent. Total daytime snow accumulation of 5 to 9 inches possible.    

-- 14075 (Hamburg): Snow. The snow could be heavy at times. Some thunder is also possible. High near 34. West wind around 10 mph. Chance of precipitation is 100 percent. Total daytime snow accumulation of 7 to 11 inches possible.

--BA

2:19 p.m.: Despite horrendous travel conditions in some communities, the U.S. Postal Service said it expects to make "the vast majority" of its mail deliveries today.

Some mail could be delayed for a day because some neighborhoods are not accessable, said Karen Mazurkiewicz, Buffalo spokeswoman for the Postal Service.

"We do have most of our workers in. We have gotten mail out to the mail stations in all areas," she said. "Every attempt will be made to deliver to every address, but we just can't get in to some neighborhoods today."

Mail customers in some snowbound communities -- especially Lackawanna, South Buffalo, Depew and Lancaster -- could see a one-day delay in deliveries, she said.

-- DH

2:14 p.m.: Lackawanna City Court is closed for the remainder of the day because of the weather.     

2:01 p.m.: Robert J. McCarthy has updated our overview story. The lead: Troopers were reporting "slow and steady progress" this afternoon in clearing the massive traffic jam that has stranded hundreds of motorists on the Thruway following the first lake-effect snowstorm of the season.

1:51 p.m.: WEST SENECA-CHEEKTOWAGA LINE -- Clinton Street near the West Seneca-Cheektowaga border is in rough shape, with a lot of snow and slush on the roadway.

Heading down Clinton toward South Buffalo is slow, but without obstruction.There are a couple police officers directing traffic at the intersection of Clinton and Bailey Avenue, even though the light appears to be properly functioning.

Traffic is bumper-to-bumper heading out of Buffalo on Clinton from Bailey to beyond Baitz Avenue.

--AB

1:48 p.m.: Molly Hlubin is lucky. Her trip home from West Seneca to Buffalo took only four hours this morning.

A licensed practical nurse at Seneca Manor in West Seneca, she worked a double shift Wednesday to fill in for others who couldn't get there because of the storm. She left work at 11 p.m., planning to hop on Route 400 to the Thruway for the 20-minute ride to her north Buffalo home.

"I didn't quite realize how bad it was snowing outside," she said. "I figured my best bet would have been to take the Thruway, because I know they plow the Thruway."

She brushed off a foot of snow from her Honda Civic, dug out around where she had been plowed in, and got stuck in the parking lot four times. An hour and a half later, she was on Route 400, headed for the eastbound Thruway, but her options were limited. She could see there was too much snow to get down the eastbound ramp. So she headed toward Erie, Pa., because it was the only way she could go, and it was a little clearer.

"I could see all the cars in the other direction were stopped," she said.

Soon, she was too, her little Honda nestled in between tractor-trailers.

Hlubin eventually got to the Lackawanna toll barrier, and told the toll attendant she got on the wrong way and wanted to go back.

"They let me turn around at toll booth," she said, adding of the toll takers: "both of them were very nice to me."

It took an hour to get from the Lackawanna toll booth back to Route 400.

"There were all kinds of people getting out of their cars talking to truckers," she said.

She followed some four-wheel-drive vehicles weaving around the stranded trucks to the Seneca Street exit, which is where she started her journey.

Hlubin took Seneca to Bailey Avenue, getting stuck several more times before arriving home at 3 a.m.

"By the time I got to North Buffalo, the roads were dry, it was not snowing and I vowed to never to get out of North Buffalo again," she said.

-- BO

1:36 p.m.: One trucker had a suggestion on how to get all the stuck cars and tractor-trailers off the Thruway: "Move the cement barriers," said Carol Peevy of Michigan after being stuck on the Thruway for 16 hours. "I understand they are pulling cars from either end. OK, that's fine. But let's get some stuff moving."

At midday, traffic was backed up for about four miles on the westbound side from the I-190 to Walden Avenue and about five miles on the eastbound side from I-190 to around the Blasdell offramp. Everything in front of those backups had been mostly cleared.

"The other side is totally clean," Peevy said. "Why can't they remove a couple of these cement barriers."

Peevy has been handing out pop and snacks to families around her, she said.

She's stunned at how long the clean up effort has taken.

"We're from Michigan. We get hammered like this in Michigan but I've never been in a situation like this."

--MB

1:27 p.m.: The good news is that the worst of the snowfall should be over tonight, even in the hardest-hit areas, according to the National Weather Service.

The bad news is that when the snow stops falling -- sometime early Friday -- some communities will be under 32 inches of snow.

"There are still a few areas that are getting one, two or three inches an hour," meteorologist David Zaff said early this afternoon. "But by this evening, I think we'll be able to say the worst is over."

Communities that were hit hardest by two days of lake effect snow were Depew, Lancaster and Alden. They have seen two feet of snow since about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

South Buffalo and the Southtowns -- including West Seneca, Orchard Park and Lackawanna -- also were hit hard.

"What makes our [Western New York] weather so unique is the narrow bands of intense lake effect snow," Zaff said. "If you're north of the lake effect band, you saw nothing. If you're in it, you got a lot of snow. In the same town, you can have one inch of snow in one area, and a foot in another area."

By the time this storm is over, some communities will get another four to eight inches of snow, Zaff said about 1 p.m. today.

"We've had zero snow in some areas, and two feet in others. And that's just in northern Erie County," Zaff added.

Why did the Thruway and some other area roads become so impassable so quickly on Wednesday?

"Yesterday morning, we had rain that turned into snow. We had two or three inches of very heavy, wet snow, and the highway crews had a lot of trouble removing it," Zaff said. "It wasn't light, fluffy snow. It was like wet cement."

Highway crews quickly fell behind in some areas and never caught up, the meteorologist said.

Although the Southern Tier should still see some snow in the next two days, conditions will be nowhere near as bad as they were Wednesday and today, Zaff said.

Buffalo and its nearby suburbs should see no snow accumulation on Friday or Saturday, with only scattered snow showers predicted for Sunday.

--Dan Herbeck     

1:21 p.m.: ON THE THRUWAY -- Many of the vehicles stuck in the snow on the Thruway near Exit 53 are tractor-trailers. Smaller cars can be seen around the trucks.

Thruway workers toil with shovels to dig out the giant 18-wheelers from deep snow drifts.

They wrap chains around the cabs of trucks and then hook them up to powerful high-lift front loaders, which try to pull the giant vehicles out inch by inch.

Jeremy Lefort, an assistant traffic supervisor with the NYS Thruway Authority, said this isn't the first time he's had to hand-dig trucks out from the snow. "We've had to do this before."

Lefort shouted up to a truck driver who was in his cab: "OK, it's your turn."

The trucker, Chet Clark, hit the gas, and his tractor-trailer wobbled and finally lurched forward.

"I'm headed to Texas, and I can't wait to get there," Clark said. "I'm looking forward to the warmer weather of the Southwest!"

--Lou Michel

1:19 p.m.: West Seneca has not banned driving, but the town is calling for no unnecessary travel.

1:10 p.m.: WEST SENECA -- Heading south into West Seneca from Cheektowaga has been a slow go.

Harlem Road is pretty sloppy in terms of the amount of accumulation still on the roadway.

About 10 minutes ago, there was a significant line of vehicles stopped on Harlem heading south just north of Indian Church Road. It was unclear what specifically was causing the backup, but several vehicles were making U-Turns in the road and heading back up Harlem.

Here are a few more of the sights in town right now:

--A tractor-trailer and a car are stuck in the snow in the main entrance to Tops, 800 Harlem.

--There's an abandoned vehicle with Maine license plates at the intersection of Harlem and Mineral Springs Road.

--Side streets and parking lots seem to be treacherous for drivers. There were two vehicles trying to get towed out of side streets along Harlem Road within a few blocks near Mineral Springs.

--AB

1:08 p.m.: Father Joe Moreno, famous around Western New York as the go-to priest for pizza when there's an emergency, went into action this morning when he heard that motorists had been stranded all night and morning on the Thruway.

Mister Pizza donated 20 sheet pizzas and Father Joe, a parish priest at St. Lawrence Church on East Delavan Avenue, and fellow parishioners gathered to help distribute slices to people stuck on the 90.

They drove up to the westbound I-190 at Walden Avenue, where troopers let them in, knowing they were bringing much needed nourishment to hungry drivers and their families.

Father Joe recounted how he brought a whole sheet to one mother who had a car full of children.

"One little boy, he was so cute. He just put his face in the pizza and started eating it," the priest said.

He also recounted getting some extra slices to a burly, and grateful, trucker from Alabama.

"You look parched," the trucker told Father Joe.

The priest was thirsty, and the trucker handed him something to drink. Father Joe took a sip and it turned out to be moonshine.

"Now, I gotta go to confession," Father Joe joked.

-- MB

1:01 p.m.: Eight people who were rescued from the Thruway were brought by bus to the Cheektowaga Senior Center a little after 12:30 today.

Tony Garrett of North Carolina, a truck river, was picked up by an ATV near exit 52.

"There's hundreds of vehicles out there for sure," he said. "I've been sitting out there since about 3:30 this morning."

Fellow truck driver John Peters, who lives outside of London, Ont., heard that and chimed in: "You're lucky; I've been out there since quarter to 10 last night."

Peters said he was trying to figure out why traffic wasn't moving because neither the weather nor the road seemed to be too bad.

"But the storm was just ahead of us, so we headed into it," he said, estimating that he moved less than a mile in 14 hours.

-- JR       

12:41 p.m.: Here's a map of the no-travel zone in the City of Buffalo.

12:40 p.m.: Aaron Besecker caught up with tractor-trailer drivers waiting for the Thruway to reopen at Jim's Truck Stop on Walden Avenue in Cheektowaga. Here's his video:

12:30 p.m.: While parts of Amherst got under an inch of snow and many streets were bone dry this morning, Highway Superintendent Robert Anderson still got the town's plows in gear to assist the Village of Depew.

Depew officials called Anderson at 10:30 a.m. for plows and manpower to help the village dig out from the storm. After touching base with Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein, Anderson sent three plow trucks and two plow-fitted high lifts, along with five drivers to assist the village.

They showed up in Depew in under an hour and began providing relief for crews that had been on the road since 8:30 p.m. the night before, Anderson said.

There's currently two feet of snow on the ground and more still falling, he said.

"They're pretty well organized," he said of the Depew Public Works Department. "They've provided us with maps for every subdivision area they want us to respond to."

Anderson said all the area highway departments have had a mutual aid agreement that dates back decades.

--Sandra Tan

12:23 p.m.: "It just keeps snowing," said West Seneca Highway Superintendent Matt English.

West Seneca is near Ground Zero for the stubborn band of lake effect snow that has dumped two to three feet of snow on the town.

"Right now, the big problem isn't the snow as much as it is the abandoned cars," he said. "We have abandoned cars on probably half our streets."

Abandoned cars are being towed to the West Seneca ice rink, and garbage pickup was canceled today and possibly Friday.

As of noon today, his trucks had been plowing for 24 hours, English said.    

"We're trying to keep the guys hydrated and rested," he said.    

Some plow drivers went home to sleep and will come back for the evening shift to attack the streets.     "This can be a four- to five-day cleanup process," he said.    

And while the town digs out of snow, some residents are concerned about the more mundane.    

"We had some people worried about their grass clippings if they were going to get picked up today," English said.    

The answer is: No.    

While Friday was to be the last day for leaves and grass, the next pickup probably will be in the spring.

-- BO

12:20 p.m.: Tractor-trailers appear to be the biggest issue affecting travel on town roads in Cheektowaga, according to Cheektowaga Police Capt. James Speyer.    

"They're all detouring through the Town of Cheektowaga and creating somewhat of a problem for travel. They're getting stuck, jack-knifed, can't get up hills or inclines."    

Speyer was asked about the stranded motorists who are being bused from the Thruway back to the Cheektowaga senior center. He said early reports suggest that some drivers are turning down the rescue, opting instead to stay with their vehicles until the interstate reopens. 

--JR    

12:18 p.m.: Sgt. 1st Class Mike Everett was driving his family from Fort Rucker, Ala., to Fort Drum in Northern New York when at about 10 p.m. Wednesday night, the traffic came to a halt on the Thruway, just past the Lackwanna toll barrier.

"All of a sudden, it just started getting kind of crazy here," he said.

His children -- Mike, 5, Mya, 3, and Meleah, 1 -- have all been fairly well behaved, even though the only thing they've had to eat since last night were Little Debbies and some chips.

"I have DVD players, so my son is watching 'Diego' and my daughters are watching 'Dora,' " he said.

Everett, who has done three tours in Iraq, said he hasn't been scared of the situation on the Thruway.    

"It's more frustration than anything," he said. "To me, it just seems like enough isn't getting done. ... I don't want to say we're left here hanging to die, but that's how I feel."    

-- MB

12:14 p.m.: ON THE THRUWAY NEAR THE 190 -- A line of cars that have been stuck on the 90 near the 190 overpass are being freed one vehicle at a time. Those stuck in their vehicles at the front of the line say they've been stuck since about 8:30 Wednesday night.

Stephanie Delamater, a South buffalo resident, left her work in Williamsville at 7:30 Wednesday night and has been stuck on the Thruway ever since. She described the Thruway as like hitting a "brick wall" as she reached the 190 overpass headed west.

Delamater ran out of gas about three hours ago, but she was able to get a fresh can. Overnight, she hunkered down with a blanket and Girl Scout cookies she had in her car.

About eight vehicles have been freed from the line in the last 30 minutes on this stretch of road.

--DJG

11:59 a.m.: CHEEKTOWAGA -- The snow is coming down slower than it was an hour or two ago near the Walden Galleria Mall.

Some of the roads in town are still sloppy, though some have been cleared down to the pavement. Some sections of Harlem Road and Walden Avenue have been plowed down to the pavement, though some sections of broadway remain in rough shape.

The entrance ramps from Walden Avenue to the westbound Thruway, which remains closed, have been closed by state vehicles.

--Aaron Besecker

11:53 a.m.: New photos in from The News' Sharon Cantillon out in Cheektowaga and Depew.

11:44 a.m.: Mayor Byron W. Brown issued a driving ban in South Buffalo at about 11:25 a.m. today.

"I encourage all residents of South Buffalo to avoid any unnecessary travel via car and I advise any non-residents to avoid travel to or through this section of Buffalo," Brown said in a statement.

As part of the ban, Buffalo police have established roadblocks at South Park Avenue and Smith Street, Smith Street and Seneca Street and Bailey Avenue and Clinton Street.  

Brown said all traffic will be denied entry into these thoroughfares unless the drivers reside in the immediate neighborhoods. Traffic will be permitted to exit the areas.

"Given the high volume of snow that has already fallen in South Buffalo and what is forecasted to continue into this evening, we are deploying all available city snow fighting crews to this area," the mayor said.    

"We need the public's cooperation to enable these crews to remove snow from the area's main and emergency thoroughfares, as well as the residential side streets."    

Brown also announced that the Corporate Emergency Access System (CEAS) has been activated at Level 'A' for South Buffalo. Participants in the program are required to present their CEAS identification to police at any roadblock.    

The CEAS system is designed to help local businesses deal with emergency or disaster situations in the city. The goal is to help businesses reach their workplaces and maintain "core" functions.

-- Phil Fairbanks          

11:41 a.m.: CHEEKTOWAGA -- Still no arrivals here at the warming center at the Cheektowaga Senior Center, but officials are ready with 150 cots -- and room for even more people to be warmed.

Officials here are saying that right now stranded motorists are being taken out of their cars and transported to the State Police barracks on the Thruway, where they're getting on buses. Coffee and donuts are available, as well as cleanup kits to help them freshen up. They started setting up here at 9 a.m., with Red Cross, Erie County Emergency Services and Town of Cheektowaga all pitching in. A Red Cross official says there's also a shelter set up at Portville Central, to help people affected by the flooding in that area. The Red Cross isn't involved in the warming station said to be set up in Blasdell, so no further details on that.

--JR

11:32 a.m.: The State Police issued a news release at 11:24 with the following information:

The Thruway is closed between exits 51 and 56 due to weather conditions and traffic back ups.

The following resources are currently being employed in the efforts to rescue stranded motorists and get the NY State Thruway open again:  

The entire NY State Thruway fleet of plows are engaged in snow removal efforts ATVs are being employed to check on vehicles and bring gas to vehicles that run out. They are being operated by the State Police, Erie County Sherriff's Department, State Parks Police, U-Crest Fire Department, Hamburg Fire Department and and West Falls Fire Department.

A shelter at the Cheektowaga Senior Center has been activated and stranded motorists are being evacuated to this location.

The current back up on the I-90 is 4 miles in the westbound direction and 5 miles in the eastbound direction. The I-190 has reopened.

11:27 a.m.: CHEEKTOWAGA -- The snow is light in Cheektowaga right now, and no one has yet arrived here at the warming center at the Cheektowaga Senior Center -- just Red Cross volunteers waiting for the buses to arrive. An official here says there will be a second warming center set up in Blasdell as well.

On the way here, Union Road was a mess. Coming from Orchard Park through West Seneca, trying to get to William Street, it took about an hour to move about three miles or so. There were abandoned cars along the road and lots of people getting stuck. Bumper-to-bumper as people tried to get to William and into the city. Still a mess, really slow moving.

--Jay Rey

11:17 a.m.: The hard-hit South Buffalo area was packed with at least 12 to 18 inches of snow overnight with some residents reporting higher numbers.

Some side streets remained unplowed Thursday morning, including South Ryan Street off of Seneca Street where one resident reported finally seeing a small "backhoe" trying to plow the snow at about 11 a.m. Even streets that had been plowed, such as Coolidge Road (running from Abbott Road to McKinley Parkway), had ruts so deep they were impassable. Abbott Road was packed in the morning with a steady and lengthy stream of cars crawling toward downtown as many motorists used it as alternate route.

--Toni Ruberto

11:15 a.m.: BUFFALO -- Even snow plows are finding trouble navigating the drifts this morning.

A private pickup plow was stuck in a parking lot at Clinton and Hubbard streets at about 11:10 a.m.

Another plow was stuck earlier at South Park Avenue and Culver Road in South Buffalo.

--DJG

11:09 a.m.: BUFFALO -- Traffic on Seneca Street heading out of Buffalo has slowed to a crawl. A long line of traffic is inching forward as cars and trucks are stopped  as they try to find alternate routes southeast.

Traffic is clear on Clinton Street, but the road hasn't been fully plowed yet.

The backup on Seneca Street appears to be caused by people who have exited the elevated section of the I-190 South near Elm Street.

--DJG

11:07 a.m.: Stranded motorists who have spent all night stranded on the Thruway were starting to be rescued late this morning.

Buses provided by Erie County Emergency Services began picking people up from Interstate 90 about 10.50 a.m. today, State Police said.

Some had been stranded since 8 p.m. Wednesday.

Three buses were dispatched to the snow-clogged Thruway. Rescued motorists are to be brought to warming centers, including an emergency shelter set up at the Cheektowaga Senior Center at 3349 Broadway, behind the Cheektowaga Police Station. The American Red Cross was busy reading the shelter for the cold and hungry motorists with hot coffee, drinks, food and blankets.

Cars were slowly being cleared from the Thruway as well, troopers said at 11 a.m.

Each stuck car was being pulled out by a tow truck and then a plow would clear the way.

--MB

11:02 a.m.: A travel ban in Depew is expected to be lifted by 3 p.m. today.

"We're just cleaning up, as the snow begins to fall again," said Emergency Coordinator Mike Moskal.     With the Thruway closed, many motorists are getting on and off at the Depew/Transit Road, Exit 49, he said.

"The first exit before Exit 50 is Depew," he said. "We have a lot of traffic on Transit, Broadway, Walden. We've got folks coming up from the Southtowns."

The traffic includes many tractor trailers, that don't usually travel the local roads. And a lot of them got stuck.

"At one point or another we probably had 15 or 20 tractor-trailers between midnight and 5 a.m. that ended up having to get pulled out," Moskal said.

He estimated the village got about 20 inches of snow overnight.

The main roads have been cleared with snow, giving village crews the chance to concentrate on side streets, he said. Plows had a difficult time getting down some streets because of parked cars.

The village reported few other emergencies.

"We've had a couple car fires related to people spinning their tires," he said.

--BO

10:50 a.m.: BUFFALO -- The streets in downtown Buffalo near Delaware Avenue are slushy but clear this morning.

Lionel Anderson and LaKeshia Johnson  said they were thankful not to see the city walloped with overnight snow.

The two were walking down a clear Delaware Avenue sidewalk.

"It's cold. It's windy," said Johnson, a 21-year-old bus aide. "I can deal with this weather more than the snow we usually have."

--Denise Jewell Gee

10:45 a.m.: Mike Ackley is worried sick and livid that his fiancee -- and mother of their two small children -- has been stuck on the Thruway all night and that no one knows when she'll get out.

"We live in Buffalo, N.Y." he seethed.

"This is the snow capital of the world. How can we be so ill prepared for this situation."

Ackley's fiancee, Lauren Barbati of Cheektowaga, left for work at a group home for autistic children at about 9 p.m. Wednesday. She got on the westbound Thruway and got stuck, about 200 feet before the William Street exit on the rightmost lane.

"She was supposed to be at work at 10 p.m. and was still on the 90 at the same place," said Ackley who was busy Thursday morning taking care of their two children, an 8-month-old baby boy and a 4-year-old girl.

At 2 a.m., Ackley checked his cell phone and she had sent a text-message. She was still stuck. Worse, she was running out of fuel and had no food or water.

Ackley began making phone calls to try to get her help. Barbati's sister began calling too.  

Barbati's cell phone battery was down to one bar, so he told her to shut it off and only call when she needed.

The last time he heard from her was at 8 a.m.  

"Nothing had changed," he said. "She is still in the same exact spot. ... My fiancee, she is near the end of life on gas. She pretty much froze all night."  

She had been told that authorities were trying to get gas out to people who had run out and they may be able to get cars near the William Street exit off soon, but as of 10:30 a.m., Ackley hadn't heard anything more.

"It's just terrible," he said.

-- Maki Becker  

10:38 a.m.: Laura Jimenez of Elma is glad she listened to her mother Wednesday, and filled her car up with gas.

"Usually I drive on E," she said.

But the 23-year-old needed the extra gas when she got stuck on the westbound Thruway shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday. She finally made it home about 11:45 p.m.

"I went through almost a half tank of gas," she said. She left Walden Galleria about 7 p.m. and was headed to an event at Ilio DiPaolo's Restaurant in Blasdell, when traffic stopped as the 90 met I-190. "Probably for an hour, I didn't move at all," said Jimenez, who is in the management trainee program at HSBC Bank.

Motorists at first were angry, and honking their horns, she said. A number of tractor trailers had gotten stuck, spinning their wheels on the icy pavement, and sliding over several lanes.

"I saw a couple people getting out of their cars, running up and down the Thruway," she said. "I think they ran out of gas."

Some cars weaved around the stopped vehicles, trying to move forward.

"At first I thought it was kind of funny, after a while it got scary with the lightening," she said. "I was trying to figure out what I was going to do if I spent the night."

She knew she would have a difficult time cleaning off her car in the high heels she was wearing, so she climbed into the back of her Ford Escape, and found some sneakers in her gym bag. Dressed in a skirt, a winter jacket and no gloves, she cleaned the ice accumulating on her windshield four times, also clearing off nearby cars.

She talked to her mother and several friends, but tried to conserve her cell phone because the battery was getting low.

Jimenez inched toward Route 400, to head home to Elma. She would have liked to have gotten off at Transit Road, but all traffic was exiting at Seneca Street, the first exit, which she reached about 10:30 p.m."

Then there were cars stuck on the side of the road, trying to get out of parking lots," she said.She slowly made her way home, glad that she had gotten a new car to replace the small Saturn she had owned.

"I used to get stuck in everything. If I was driving that, I would have been freaking out," she said.And, thanks to nagging from Mom, she did not run out of gas and reached home safely."I notice the older I get, the wiser my parents get," Jimenez said.

-- Barbara O'Brien

10:33 a.m.: The News' Derek Gee captured these images of stranded motorists on the Thruway in West Seneca this morning.

WINTER STORM
 

10:30 a.m.: Here's a look at the scene on the Thruway this morning, from The News' Aaron Besecker in Cheektowaga:

10:27 a.m.: While many areas south of Buffalo are dealing with snow, Cattaraugus County continues to deal with flooding.

The county's Office of Emergency Services has opened a disaster operations center because of flooding issues.

A flood alert warning is in effect for the Alllegheny River at Salamanca and Olean. Moderate flooding is expected.

Several state roads are closed, including: Route 305 in Portville to the state line; Route 417 at the Portville underpass; the westbound exit ramp of interstate 23 in Carrolton.

The following county roads also are closed: Gile Hollow in Hinsdale; County Road 60 in Alllegany; Chipmunk Road in Allegany.

A shelter is open in the Portville Central School. Residents should enter at the south side and use the access road off Elm Street. A second shelter has been established in the Town of Olean Fire Department at 1297 Old Rock City Hill Road.

--Bruce Andriatch

10:23 a.m.: The American Red Cross is opening an emergency shelter for travelers stranded on the Thruway at the Cheektowaga Senior Center at 3349 Broadway.

10:22 a.m.: Here's the latest on the storm that has stranded motorists on the Thruway and caused headaches across points south and east of the City of Buffalo for the past 18 hours or so.

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