US slowly emerging from storm, disruptions remain at airports

The United States is slowly emerging from the storm, disruptions remain in the airports


The United States was slowly emerging from a historic storm on Wednesday that claimed at least 59 lives, but its impact continued to be felt in the Buffalo area and at airports, hundreds of thousands of passengers who had their flights cancelled. 

Severe snowfalls, icy winds, sudden drop in temperatures… Even in regions used to harsh winters, bad weather has taken its toll , to the point that rescue teams have sometimes found themselves stranded.

New York's Erie County, home to the city of Buffalo near the border with Canada, alone accounts for 37 of the nation's at least 59 storm-related deaths, according to a new report on Wednesday.

People have died because they had no heating at home in the freezing cold, according to the authorities. Others were found dead in their cars or on the street.

At Christmas, the cold was felt to varying degrees in a large part of the country, as far as Texas and Florida, which are unaccustomed to such weather conditions.

The latter improved on Wednesday, with temperatures rising. 

But “as temperatures warm, we expect snow melt and possible flooding from rapid melting,” warned Mark Poloncarz , an Erie County official.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul told various local agencies to prepare for “potentially dangerous flooding.”

Water pumps, generators and sandbags were ready to be distributed, including for Erie County, according to a statement.

On Wednesday, the National Guard was going door to door in areas where power had not yet been restored, to make sure residents were safe, tweeted Mark Poloncarz.

The driving ban remained in effect in Buffalo.

In recent days, some have criticized the county's response to the forecast storm, believing that this ban should have been enacted sooner.

“I don't know if it would have made a difference, but it was my decision and I bear full responsibility for it,” reacted Mark Poloncarz.

Piles of suitcases

In airports, especially at Denver, Chicago and Baltimore, disruptions remained. In question: the cancellations of flights in series around the Christmas weekend.

But while the pace of most airlines had returned to normal, one, Southwest Airlines, continued to deal with a service debacle. Of the approximately 2,800 flights canceled on Wednesday, more than 2,500 were operated by Southwest, according to the FlightAware website.

On Tuesday evening, its CEO Bob Jordan apologized in a video message.

“We are doing everything we can to get back to normal (…). I'm so sorry,” he said.

On CNN, Southwest Pilots Association Vice President Mike Santoro expressed his frustration, explaining that the company had long suffered from a “largely outdated” computer system, making it difficult to organize flights. /p>

“We are tired of apologizing on behalf of Southwest,” he said, calling on the company to invest in upgrading its system. “This is the biggest disruption I have ever seen in my 16 years with the company (…). It’s embarrassing,” he blurted out.

Transport Minister Pete Buttigieg said he would take a “close look at what happened with their system”.

“While we understand that it is impossible to control the weather , here the line has clearly been crossed between an uncontrollable situation in terms of weather and something that is the direct responsibility of the company,” he told NBC.

On Wednesday, hundreds suitcases were still piled up at BWI airport in Baltimore, Maryland, according to an AFP reporter.

For Mary, a Southwest customer from Orlando who preferred not to give her surname is the missing car seat for her two-month-old infant. She was queuing with about 50 other people trying to locate their lost luggage over the past few days.

“We still have to drive three hours to get home, we can't do it without (the seat auto),” she lamented.