BUFFALO (Reuters) - As temperatures near Buffalo, New York, rose above freezing on Saturday, volunteers fanned out to help their neighbors clear the walls of snow that have paralyzed parts of the region this week, but the warming trend also raised the threat of flooding.
More than 200 volunteers, called the Shovel Brigade Mob, armed themselves with shovels and headed into neighborhoods south of downtown Buffalo. The group said some residents were still stuck in their homes, days after a lake-effect system clobbered the region with up to seven feet of snow.
“Everyone wanted to do something for those who are stuck and stranded who don’t have groceries and diapers,” said Sara Heidinger, a volunteer coordinator.
As the city dug itself out on Saturday, concerns grew about widespread flooding due to rising temperatures. The National Weather Service issued a flood watch, predicted rain and forecast temperatures above 50 degrees Fahrenheit in parts of the region for the next few days.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said on Saturday he had mobilized emergency resources, including more than 500 members of the National Guard, hundreds of pumps and hundreds of thousands of sandbags, in the event of flooding.
“We can’t say exactly whether or not there will be a flooding problem. We can’t say what kind of structure collapses we may have, but we anticipate both to some extent,” he said.
The November storm system, dubbed the “Knife Storm,” dumped about seven feet (2 meters) of snow in parts of western New York over a three-day period while leaving other areas virtually unscathed, cutting the city in half, Heidinger said.
The massive snowfall, combined with forecasts of rain, raised fears that the roofs of homes and businesses could collapse under the weight.
“From where I am standing I can drive 10 minutes south on completely cleared roads and then hit where it is a disaster,” she said.
South Buffalo resident Christopher Orazio, 22, said he and his girlfriend have been cooped up in their home for several days.
“We are just watching TV and watching the news, we are both hungry and fighting with each other,” he said.
Despite the conditions, Heidinger said a regular sight has been people pulling beer in their sleds and carrying pizza boxes.
“There’s this fun attitude of people just toughing it out and making the best of what they have,” she said.
Additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; editing by Frank McGurty, G Crosse and Raissa Kasolowsky