It will be days before all the frozen bodies are found, weeks before residential streets are passable and years before the people of metropolitan Buffalo stop talking about a Friday-Saturday snowstorm that even for the weather-wise people of western New York was a cause for fear and panic.
Thousands of persons were stranded in office buildings and warehouses, unable to get home Friday night. The blizzard brought less than 5 inches of snow - negligible by Buffalo standards - but brought new meaning to the word "blinding" as the snow was blown horizontally off frozen Lake Erie on 50 and 60 m.p.h. winds.
In the streets of the city the new snow mixed with 37 inches still on the ground from previous storms. Over 13 feet of snow have fallen on Buffalo since October 1.
According to police, hundreds of other persons were stranded in automobiles faced with the choice of risking carbon monoxide poisoning or freezing to death. At least six persons had been found dead in their cars by midday today and public officials predicted that the number would increase as scores of other cars are uncovered and opened.
Friday began as a normal winter day in Buffalo - a city widely known for its harsh winters - with the temperature in the 20s, the winds blowing at 15 m.p.h. and thousands of work-bound motorists driving cautiously through snow-covered streets. But, in one noon-hour minute, the storm began. The temperature dropped 17 degrees and the winds off Lake Erie began shoving through the city at 59 m.p.h.
As has become practice, downtown employers and government agencies quickly released their employees, allowing them the opportunity to get home before dark.
But even at noon, it was already dark because of the blowing snow.
Traffic immediately jammed the downtown streets, without moving. Ambulances, rescue squads and police vehicles sat helplessly with their sirens screaming in the traffic jams.
By nightfall, telephone lines were jammed as families tried to account for missing members. Electrical power failed in more than 5,000 homes, forcing people to pull themselves along fences against the wind toward the nearest firehouse or police station. All buses stopped running, some while filled with passengers.
Automobiles were abandoned in intersections; $100,000-a-year executives found themselves sleeping on the floors of hotel rooms.
In Buffalo City Hall, Mayor Stanley M. Makowski played host to 613 victims of the storm. The mayor, whose 15-year-old son, Stanley Jr., had accompanied him to work Friday morning, did what sleeping he could do on three wooden chairs pulled together in the mayor's office.
Elsewhere in the building, bottles of liquor appeared from the backs of filing cabinet drawers, poker tables were fashioned and filled, and the cafeteria food supply was consumed. At one point, a steam pipe ruptured, forcing City Hall heating system to be shut down for repairs that took less than an hour.
There were more than 800 persons in County Hall, about 700 in a state office building, and more than 200 in War Memorial Auditorium, where the Buffalo Braves had been scheduled to play a National Basketball Association game. Basketball was played all night Friday and all day today, but not by the Braves. The contestants were the stranded.
More than 2,000 people spent the night in a downtown industrial building without food and with only a few telephone lines available. Some 3,000 were stranded in a suburban industrial complex. Thousands were trapped in shopping malls.
Police radios crackled all night with tales of terror, one woman reporting that she had been raped in the driving snow on a west side corner, another person reporting that businesses were being looted after store windows were blown out by the gales, another pleading for help because the side of a house had caved in.
The fire radio was filled with shouting voices as a west side neighborhood began burning out of the fire department's reach. Fifteen pieces of fire fighting equipment trying to reach what was quickly becoming an inferno were reported stuck in the snow or blocked by abandoned vehicles.
The fire dispatcher ordered the men to get to the fire on foot, dragging their heavy hoses with them.
In the end, hoses stretched out nearly 1,000 feet to extinguish the fire that had destroyed seven homes, damaged five others and forced another dozen to be evacuated. About 10 firefighters suffered frostbite and had to be treated at hospitals whose emergency rooms were already jammed with hundreds of other frostbite victims.
The fire department called in all off duty and auxiliary fire fighters during the west side fire and issued an emergency plea for snowmobiles were made available, and by early today the only movement in Buffalo was snowmobile rescue squads rushing storm victims to hospitals.
The storm seemed to have ended today at daybreak, but few of those stranded downtown were able to return to their families. All roads were closed. All rail service in and out of the city had been canceled.
The National Guard moved into the city to begin clearing the streets, searching with helicopters for stranded cars and delivering food from waterfront warehouses to emptyshelved grocery stores and factories.
And then the snow and the wind began again. The temperature was never to get above zero today, and the winds were roaring at 40 m.p.h. by noon.