Federal emergency declared after storm; north country continues to dig out

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The federal government is sending direct assistance to New York, after declaring an emergency due to the storm that piled feet of snow in the north country and Western New York over the weekend.

On Saturday, Gov. Kathleen C. Hochul requested that the Biden administration declare a federal emergency for 11 counties hit hardest by the storms; Jefferson, Lewis, St. Lawrence, Oswego, Genesee, Erie, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Niagara, Oneida and Wyoming, as well as communities contiguous to those counties.

That declaration was approved Sunday night, allowing direct federal funding to cover the costs of the local and state response and freeing up federal staffing and support for emergency operations, like search and rescue and emergency engineering work to protect essential infrastructure.

“I thank President Biden for immediately granting our emergency declaration request and for our ongoing strong partnership, as well as Senator Schumer for his assistance in securing relief for New Yorkers,” Gov. Hochul said in a news release. “My team and I will continue working around the clock to keep everyone safe, help communities dig out, and secure every last dollar to help rebuild and recover from this unprecedented, record-shattering historic winter storm.”

The state-issued state of emergency remains in effect, with state resources still in use across the region to help clear the feet of snow. More than 80 inches of snow fell in Orchard Park, the Erie County home of the Buffalo Bills. Natural Bridge, with a population of 365, had the fifth highest snowfall total in the state with 72.3 inches.

National Weather Service snowfall reports from 1:30 p.m. Sunday showed that 12.5 inches fell in Henderson between noon Saturday and noon Sunday, and 8 inches of snow fell over the same period in Croghan. Preliminary figures show that Watertown received 61 inches of snow as of Sunday morning, which could set a record for the most snowfall over a two-day period since records started in 1949.

Roads started to clear Sunday, as a fleet of state equipment made its way north and began clearing the snow that officials said was too wet and heavy to move without heavy equipment. Between western New York and the north country, the state rolled out more than 1,050 Department of Transportation staff and supervisors, 484 large and medium plows, 14 tow plows, 98 loaders and 24 snowblowers.

Some side streets in the city of Watertown remained covered in a layer of compacted snow Monday morning, and the Harrisville, Watertown, Carthage and Indian River school districts stayed closed. Watertown, Carthage and Indian River also canceled classes today.

Jefferson County Legislature chair William W. Johnson said most of the roads the county is responsible for were cleared by Monday, with some county-owned parking lots left to clear. He said county crews were assisting the city of Watertown with cleanup by Monday morning.

Strong winds with gusts up to 50 miles per hour were recorded in Jefferson County Monday, blowing the loose top layers of snow around and risking further damage from falling tree limbs.

Watertown residents are still figuring out how to dig themselves out after more than 60 inches of snow fell in the city.

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