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Buffalo officials and residents are trading the blame over snowstorm deaths

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The Buffalo, N.Y., area sees a lot of snow every winter, but the blizzard that hit one week ago was the worst the region has ever seen. People were stranded in homes and in cars. Thirty-nine people were killed throughout the county. WBFO's Dave Debo is here with the latest. Dave, can you just tell us how is Buffalo doing today?

DAVE DEBO, BYLINE: The city is getting back to normal. Today they did hold their test of the annual ball drop from a tall building downtown. So city officials at least are trying to look ahead to better days. Many roads are open. Side streets still have about two inches of slushy snow on them. A couple of hours ago, they did issue a warning that there is still heavy equipment out there. Dump trucks can still be seen hauling snow away. But at least no more people are stranded in cars. The power is back on after as many as 100 households were out earlier in the week. And the National Guard ended their rounds this morning. They've stopped doing house-to-house searches, believing that all the people who have died have been found.

CHANG: Can I ask you, how much do we know about how exactly some of these people died?

DEBO: Almost half of them were inside unheated homes. Others were in stranded vehicles or just simply died when emergency crews couldn't get to them. One example, 46-year-old Lederise Curry - she died in her home with a severe asthma attack because she couldn't be reached by rescue crews. William Clay passed away on his birthday Saturday. He was found face down in the snow on the street. Another example from local media - 26-year-old Abdul Sharifu, an immigrant from the Congo. Neighbors used to call him 911 because he was the go-to guy for help in the community. He was also found face down in the snow. Family says he went out to buy some milk. And his wife is expected to give birth to their son in just a couple of days.

CHANG: Oh, my God. How devastating. Well, of course, all of this happened in the same city where a racist mass shooting took place earlier this year at a supermarket, one that left 10 Black people dead. How has that been weighing on people's minds as they're trying to recover from this storm?

DEBO: It's definitely connected. That market was a staging area this morning for some neighborhood relief efforts. But that shooting really brought out the fact that parts of the city are incredibly segregated, that that particular neighborhood that's mostly Black hadn't had any investment. And now with people dying, they're saying, where are the resources? Buffalo's poet laureate this morning tweeted out that she's sick of seeing people hurt and that her community has experienced too much loss. That's a quote. There's also been a discussion about how telling people to stock up before the storm doesn't exactly work when you're living paycheck to paycheck in a city where the poverty rate is almost 29%.

CHANG: And I'm seeing that this storm has also led to a bit of a blame game among local politicians, right?

DEBO: Absolutely. Six days after a driving ban still remained in the city, there was still a lot of discussion about resources. The county executive pushed back against the mayor. And he says he wants a system in bad blizzards where he could automatically deploy plow trucks out of his own jurisdiction.

CHANG: That is WBFO reporter Dave Debo in Buffalo, N.Y. Thank you very much.

DEBO: Glad to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Dave Debo's journalism career runs the gamut from public radio to commercial radio, from digital projects to newspapers. With over 30 years of experience, he's produced national television news programs and has worked as both a daily and weekly print journalist and web editor.