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Western New York is seeing its worst storm in years

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

More than 4 feet of snow in 24 hours - that's a lot, even for western New York that's used to heavy snowfall, one of the worst storms that part of the country has seen in years. But not everybody sees the same amount. Member station WBFO's Emyle Watkins joins us from Buffalo. Emyle, thanks for being with us.

EMYLE WATKINS, BYLINE: Hi, Scott.

SIMON: What's it look like?

WATKINS: Well, it's very different depending on where you are. For example, if you drive from north of the city to south of it, you're going to go from 7 inches of snow to over 5 feet. And in a town south of Buffalo called Hamburg, things are really quite bad. Emergency crews there are struggling to reach people. But north of downtown Buffalo, things are really different. There's only a few inches of snow.

SIMON: Snow is part of the scenery there in Buffalo - not to sound indifferent. How are people holding up?

WATKINS: I mean, some people are very stressed and overwhelmed or annoyed, but some people are enjoying it. They love the weather. They're outside with their dogs or their kids. I talked to a college student, Kyra Laurie. She got stranded at her parents' house in a suburb called Orchard Park. That got several feet of snow. She's having a good time with her family, and she's playing with her siblings. But Laurie says something I hear from a lot of people - this storm caught her by surprise.

KYRA LAURIE: Being from Buffalo, you just assume that you'll make it. You know, you can truck through any kind of snowstorm. But I feel like this one's been really aggressive.

WATKINS: Unfortunately, we've already seen people die from cardiac events. That's something that can happen when older people or people with chronic illnesses try to shovel this really heavy, wet snow. We've had a partial building collapse already. And in some areas, police can't reach people stranded in their cars.

SIMON: And there's going to be more snow today and wind. How can snow crews keep up?

WATKINS: I mean, it's really difficult for these snow crews. They're working around the clock to clear the snow. And again, it's a wet, heavy snow, and it's falling much faster than normal. I talked to John Pilato. He's the highway superintendent in the town of Lancaster. He's trying to keep the snow crews fed and rested while they camp out at the highway department.

JOHN PILATO: Bought as much food and grub that we could just to have on hand for these guys. We bought a bunch of K-Cups so we could keep them a little bit caffeinated and fueled up. It's hard.

SIMON: Emyle, as a Chicagoan, I know that residential streets are often cleared after highways. But if you can't or won't drive, those are exactly the streets you need to be able to walk down to get to a store.

WATKINS: Exactly. I mean, this is a population that often gets overlooked in these events, even though they are disproportionately impacted. I talked to Kevin Heffernan. He's with an organization called GObike Buffalo. They advocate for pedestrians with disabilities, cyclists and transit riders, and they've been really pushing the city for over a year to put in place sidewalk snow removal programs. Right now, it's the property owners' responsibility to clear that snow. And he points out that 1 in 4 households in Buffalo don't own a car.

KEVIN HEFFERNAN: If the snow stops tomorrow and those streets aren't cleared within a matter of hours, that's when you start to see frustration really start to mount. It's Buffalo. We shouldn't have to spend three, four days digging out of the storm. We're used to this. We should have good plans in place.

SIMON: Well, we will keep an eye on that. Member station WBFO's Emyle Watkins, thanks so much for being with us. And stay warm.

WATKINS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Emyle Watkins
Emyle Watkins is a multimedia journalist with experience in newspapers, web, TV and radio.