By Carolyn Thompson
BUFFALO, N.Y. — Roofs began to creak and collapse and homeowners struggled to clear waist-high drifts atop their houses Thursday as another storm brought the Buffalo area’s three-day snowfall total to an epic 7 feet or more.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo begged drivers “pretty, pretty please” to stay off slippery, car-clogged roads in western New York while crews tried to dig out.
Some areas got close to 3 feet of new snow by Thursday afternoon.
Things could quickly get worse: Rain and temperatures as high as 60 were forecast over the weekend, raising the specter of flooding and an even heavier load on roofs, where the snow could absorb the downpours like a blanket.
More than 50 people were evacuated from several mobile home parks in suburban Cheektowaga and West Seneca because roofs were buckling.
Bellevue Fire Department Lt. Timothy Roma said more than a dozen buildings and carports collapsed, as did a metal warehouse operated by a Christmas decorations company.
Damage was estimated in the millions.
Local media reported that about 180 residents of a Cheektowaga assisted living facility were evacuated after staff members noticed the ceiling bulging under the weight of the snow.
Homeowners and store employees around the region climbed onto roofs to shovel off the snow and reduce the danger.
“It’s getting heavier,” said Cheektowaga resident Thomas Mudd Jr., who with his wife spent several hours shoveling 4 to 5 feet off his roof.
“It’s supposed to warm up and we’re supposed to get rain on the weekend, which will make it even heavier. So I didn’t want my roof collapsing.”
The storms were blamed for at least 10 deaths in western New York, mostly from heart attacks and exposure.
With roads impassable, driving bans in effect and the Buffalo Bills’ stadium buried in snow, the NFL decided to move Sunday’s home game against the New York Jets to another location, still to be determined.
Earlier in the day, Cuomo said holding the game would jeopardize public safety.
National Guardsmen drove nurses to work their hospital shifts. State troopers helped elderly residents trapped in their homes.
State officials assembled 463 plows, 129 loaders and 40 dump trucks from across the state.
Some Buffalo-area schools were closed for the third day, burning through snow days with winter still a month away.
A stretch of the New York State Thruway through western New York remained closed, with more than 300 truckers idled at truck stops and service areas, waiting for the highway to reopen.
With deliveries interrupted, some grocery stores reported running low on staples like bread and milk.
Thirty-seven inches fell on the town of Wales southeast of Buffalo late Wednesday and Thursday, for a three-day total of more than 7 feet.
Even for the Buffalo area — one of the snowiest and hardiest places in America — this was one for the history books. The three-day total is close to the nearly 8 feet that the region typically gets over an entire year.
“No matter how you cut it, this event will end up in the top five for the Lake Erie area,” said National Weather Service Director Louis Uccellini.
Because the Buffalo area is so snowy, the building codes require homes and businesses to be able to handle up to 50 pounds per square foot on their roofs, which would be about as heavy as a slab of concrete 4 inches thick, according to Mark Bajorek, a structural engineer.
As anyone who has ever shoveled snow knows, its weight depends in part on how wet or fluffy it is, not just on how deep it is.
But Bajorek said some buildings may be close to that limit now, with more precipitation on the way.