Video, Audio, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Hochul Requesting Federal Emergency Declaration as Winter Storm Continues in Western, Central, and Northern New York

Earlier today, Governor Kathy Hochul updated New Yorkers on the winter storm impacting parts of Western, Central, and Northern New York. More than five feet of snow has already accumulated in parts of Erie County and more than six feet of snow has fallen in Jefferson County since Thursday evening. Areas in and around the cities of Buffalo and Watertown have experienced consistent snowfall rates of two-to-three inches per hour, with some locations seeing a peak of six inches of snowfall an hour. This intense snowfall has created extremely dangerous travel conditions, and as a result, numerous road closures and travel bans remain in place throughout Erie County. With these conditions expected to continue throughout the weekend, Governor Hochul and local officials are continuing to urge New Yorkers to avoid travel in the impacted areas of Erie County, as well as in areas in the North County experiencing a similar lake effect storm off the eastern shores of Lake Ontario near Watertown. The Governor is also submitting a request to President Biden for a federal Emergency Declaration for 11 counties. Once approved, the Emergency Declaration will provide immediate federal funding to impacted counties to support ongoing response and rescue operations.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h.264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor’s Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks are available below:

Hello everyone. all set. Well, here we are in the Town of Hamburg. This shares a distinction with Orchard Park as being the epicenter of a massive snow event, which I would say is one for the record books. I’m joined by Commissioner Jackie Bray, Commissioner of Homeland Security and Emergency Services, who brings incredible expertise to this having been the many roles in emergency services, but also as a Chief of Staff to the National Weather Service in Washington at one time. So, she’s been a real expert and an asset to us. Marie Therese Dominguez, our Commissioner of the DOT, has been extraordinary in her efforts as well. I want to commend her and her entire team. We also have a Superintendent – State Police Superintendent, Steve Nigrelli. Talk about a hometown hero. He’s a local Hamburg resident, so he knows the streets, he knows the communities, and he knows our capabilities, and I want to thank him for his leadership.

Also, some of my partners in government. Mayor Tom Tallman from the Village of Hamburg is here. Tom and I go back to kindergarten many, many years ago, right in the Town of Hamburg and the Village of Hamburg. And Councilmember Karen Hoak, who also is the Deputy Commissioner of Highways, has joined us. As well as the one and only, storm pro, who is our County Executive. We’ve been through a lot together, Mark Poloncarz, and he’s been out on the roads often sending photos to me, letting me know what’s happening on the ground. So, I want to thank him.

Everybody looks a little tired, but that’s okay. No one can be more tired than our crews here. I want to give a shout-out to the DOT plow crew who came all here from Long Island. These are our Long Island guys. There you are. I’d probably be accurate in saying they’re a little bit snow-shocked instead of shell-shocked seeing the volume of snow here, but I’m sure you got some great stories to take back to Long Island. And so, this is the effort we’ve brought together, bringing resources, people, equipment from all over the State of New York. And because we were so preemptive in this strike, we were able to avert many tragedies, and we know that from having gone through countless snowstorms, not all of this magnitude, but many very serious in the past. 2014, 2013, 2006, 2010.

So, we all know particular storms, but this is one because of the volume, the intense volume, sometimes upwards of six inches of snow per hour. We had originally been told two to three, then possibly three to four, four to five, but we actually hit six inches an hour, which is why we believe we’ll be making history with having the most amount of snowfall in a 24- hour period right here in the State of New York. Never happened like this before, but I did mention bringing resources here early on. I think that averted many accidents. You look back to 2014, there were literally thousands of stranded motorists. We have only had 88 crashes, which is 88 more than we want to have, but only about 280 people had to be rescued, which is extraordinary compared to what could have been. And I thank Western New Yorkers for heating the early call, literally starting on Wednesday and shutting down the Thruway to commercial traffic at 4:00 PM on Thursday before the snow started to fall, and taking steps to shut down the Thruway and our major highways , and having the travel bans. All this made a difference in protecting human life.

We’ve been incredible in making sure that we do everything we can to ensure our roads are safe, that they’re clear for emergency services. So, ambulances, emergency vehicles, fire vehicles can get to where they need to go in case they’re needed. So, I’m proud of that effort. Proud of the incredible coordination in working with the county, working with the city, and working with our towns. A lot of it comes from personal relationships that are deep, and this is when it matters. The cooperation, the coordination, no turf battles. Everybody has rolled up their sleeves and literally put down their blades. The snowplows are helping everywhere regardless of jurisdiction. I’m really proud of that as well.

I did make some rounds earlier today as well. Stopped at the Shamrock Trailer Park, a place my parents started married life, so I wanted to check in on that community in Lackawanna. And people are resilient. They’re strong, they’re out there, I was out there helping keep an eye on someone’s cats, so I didn’t get snuck in the snow, but it’s a great community and I wanted to make sure they felt safe. So, I wanted everybody to know that we — there’s 49 mobile home parks within the vicinity of the disaster area, our emergency area. All of them are being checked on personally because there’s a vulnerability. You talk about roof collapses, these are not strong roofs, and so we want to make sure that people who hear a single sound know to leave the vicinity immediately because it could be the collapse of a roof.

Speaking of roof collapses, I just went over to an iconic building been there since 1942. Braymiller’s Bowling right here in the Village of Hamburg, a place I spent countless hours bowling as a child and as a mom bringing my kids there for bowling parties. The front, the side looks fine. You go around the back, it is literally collapsed. It is not going to be able to be repaired or redeemed because the bowling alley has literally been collapsed in because of the weight of snow on the roof. So, we were just inspecting that. I was there with Mayor Tom Tallman, who also bowled there often. So it’s a loss, but we’re going to help them rebuild and that’s important to us.

So, this is something we just want to point out. Despite the fact that it — we may not be in blizzard conditions, these roofs can be collapsed when you put the weight of five, six, seven feet of snow on them as well. Power outages, really confined. We’ve deployed, you know, we had 5,700 utility crews ready to depend on Western New York if necessary. Again, trying to avert what we’ve seen in the past where people are not just in a cold circumstance, can’t get out of their driveway, but then have no power. So, there’s only about 721 power outages right now, statewide, about 1,600. So, we’ve been helpful to people out there supporting them.

Again, State Police have been doing everything that they can to deal with some crises we had overnight, which was 70 tractor-trailers, all violating a driving ban as well as 10 passenger vehicles that were out on the road over the night. And some of them had to be taken to warming stations. So, that has been abated. The traffic was jammed up at the Thruway entrances. We now have an opening for the thruway for commercial traffic to stop the pressure points, especially along Miles Trip Road, Camp Road. I just went past there and some other points of entry. So, we’ve done that, just opened up the Thruway for a, what we call, a soft opening. It’s open for commercial traffic only because remember, there are still driving bans, still driving bans in effect. So, just because you see some traffic on the Thruway does not mean it’s open to all traffic because we have to continue making sure that, while the Thruway may be clear in many areas, we have to make sure that all the ramps are safe as well, and that takes longer to plow.

And knowing that we have another wave of the storm coming in later tonight, not the same volume, probably more like six to eight inches, but it could be changing. We want to make sure that before we officially open up the Thruway to everybody, and work in concert with the County Executive and the Committees on Driving Bans, so that’s all coordinated there. The sky will also be opening. We’ll be giving notifications on when the sky will be open as well. We just want to get the roads a little bit. And again, working with the driving bans that are in effect. So, we’ve also doubled the amount of National Guard members that were brought here. We originally had about 70. We now have 150. They’re doing everything from transporting dialysis patients in the Town of Hamburg here to their appointments, to knocking on doors and making sure that people are safe, and trying to help people get through this as best as we can.

I also want to announce that I will be, as of today, signing a request for a Federal Emergency Declaration. This is important for us to be able to receive reimbursements for the expenses of this storm. We’ve been in contact with FEMA and we feel hopeful, optimistic that this will be granted because we’ve brought in not just all the resources across the state, also private contractors that the county and we have to pay for private contractors as well as the shared service agreements we have. For example, the County of Cattaraugus has sent 20 plows up to help us, and so we want to make sure that everybody can get reimbursed. So, that request is going in as soon as I finish this event, I’ll be signing the paperwork and making sure that that’s official.

So, that’s all I had at this point. Commissioners, is there anything else I need to add on? Anything else, Superintendent? all good. Okay. County Executive Poloncarz, I’m sure you have something to add because you’ve been out there and I appreciate your leadership through this. It’s been extraordinary. And a lot of people are commenting on the fact that we’re not seeing the same situation we’ve seen in the past, where stranded motorists and people not being able to handle the circumstances, and who’s doing what, and who’s talking to whom . That is no longer the case. A relationship that goes back as many years as ours and certainly working with other partners has really made a difference for the people of Western New York. So, I want to just thank you personally, County Executive Poloncarz.