Major Snowfall Sees National Guard Help Resident
BUFFALO NEW YORK – More than 500 New York National Guard soldiers and airmen are helping people dig out from a monster snowstorm that hit here and other areas of western New York state earlier this week.
National Guard members will conduct snow removal, traffic control, and emergency medical personnel movement missions, officials said.
Soldiers have also been clearing paths at disabled residents’ group homes at the request of the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities and that mission will continue. New York Army National Guard military police have been assisting local law enforcement officials by conducting health and wellness visits in Boston and Clarence to check on residents.
Sixty soldiers will continue to remove snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Nursing Home in West Seneca.
Equipment on hand includes two large Air Guard runway clearance snow blowers, 17 Bobcats, 2 D-8 bulldozers, 13 front end loaders, 34 dump trucks, and 50 Humvees. More equipment will be deployed as required. Troops clearing rooftops have also been equipped with small snow blowers.
Soldiers performing the mission are assigned to the 153rd Troop Command and 152nd Engineer Company from Buffalo, the 827th Engineer Company in Horseheads, the 1152nd Engineer Company from Kingston, the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion in Rochester, the 2nd Squadron, 101st Cavalry which has elements in Buffalo, Jamestown and Niagara Falls, the 105th Military Police Company in Buffalo, and the 42nd Infantry Division.
Air National Guard airmen supporting the mission are assigned to the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, the 174th Attack Wing at Hancock Field Air National Guard Base in Syracuse, and the 109th Airlift Wing at Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.
New York Army National Guard tractor-trailers are providing long-haul transportation support to the New York State Department of Homeland Support and Emergency Services and other state agencies by transporting supplies in snow-impacted areas of the state.
Governor Deploys National Guard
More than 240 soldiers and airmen were called out Nov. 18 by New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to assist the city of Buffalo and Erie County in the response to the historic lake-effect snowfall. Within 24 hours that number grew to 375 Guard members.
The storm swept across Lake Erie, creating bands of snowfall familiar to western New York residents, but dramatic in the amount of snow that piled up in just hours.
“Mother Nature is showing us who’s boss once again,” Cuomo said in his activation of the state emergency management center in Albany and call-up of New York National Guard forces. “This snowfall may break all sorts of records, and that’s saying something in western New York and in Buffalo.”
Just east of Buffalo in Lancaster, New York, more than 5 feet of snow fell by Nov. 19. But just six miles away the Buffalo airport — outside the heaviest band of lake-effect snow — received less than 4 inches.
“We are deploying the National Guard to ramp up efforts to keep western New York residents safe and to assist storm recovery efforts in any way possible,” Cuomo said. “Travel bans and advisories remain in effect, and I urge drivers to stay off the roads so that our state agencies and the National Guard can assist those that need help.”
Storm Closes Stretch of New York State Thruway
The storm forced the state to close the New York State Thruway, Interstate 90, from Rochester all the way west to the Pennsylvania state line. Some 100 cars were reported stranded along that 140-mile stretch of highway.
The initial response included engineer soldiers and equipment of the 152nd Engineer Company in Buffalo and the 827th Engineer Company from Horseheads, New York, who deployed front end loaders, Bobcats, and dump trucks to assist in snow removal operations, beginning the evening of Nov. 18 in support of Erie County Emergency Management.
The task force was led by Army Lt. Col. Jim Freehart, from Troy, New York, and commander of the 153rd Troop Command Headquarters, a Buffalo-based Army National Guard unit. Additional staffing for the joint task force came from nearby Niagara Falls in the New York Air National Guard headquarters of the 107th Airlift Wing.
Women’s Basketball Team Saved From Snow-stranded Bus
The engineers were in action right away on the evening of Nov. 18, assisting the New York State Police and the New York State Thruway Authority in freeing a stranded bus carrying the Niagara University women’s basketball team players, coaches and relatives from Niagara University.
“It was an amazing feeling,” Rene Polka, the director of women’s basketball, told news reporters after the rescue. “It was dark when we first became trapped early Tuesday, but when the sun came up we saw how bad it was. Then it literally did not stop snowing all day, so we thought we might have been trapped for a lot longer.”
The engineers were joined by National Guard Initial Response Forces from the 107th Airlift Wing at Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station and the 642nd Aviation Support Battalion from Rochester. The two units worked throughout the day November 19th to provide traffic control or assist in critical snow removal using a welcome resource of the National Guard: manpower.
The two elements provided 40 personnel and 10 Humvees to assist the county’s response efforts.
Airmen Clear Snow from Rooftop
Airmen from the 107th Airlift Wing helped clear heavy snow from the roof of the Eden Heights Assisted Living Facility in West Seneca, N.Y., Nov. 19. West Seneca experienced more than four feet of snow in just the first 24 hours of the snowstorm.
The New York National Guard doubled those initial response forces during the day on Nov. 19 with the call to two more elements from Syracuse, N.Y. — the 174th Attack Wing and 27th Brigade Combat Team — to deploy and join the task force Thursday and assist as needed.
“We’ve brought in hundreds of National Guard personnel, and we will be bringing in more to [supplement and] relieve the existing personnel,” Cuomo said during a Nov. 19 press conference. “This is going to be a multi-day event, given the weather pattern, so we’re planning a four- [to]five-day workload and we’re adjusting accordingly.”
Winter Response Forces React to Snowstorm
The quick reaction of New York National Guard resources lies primarily in the creation of winter response force packages that each major command resources each year. These packages were then quickly relocated to western New York to assist local authorities.
Joining that force to assist the Department of Transportation were two Oshkosh Snow Removal Trucks from the 174th Attack Wing along with additional operators from the Air National Guard’s 109th Airlift Wing from Scotia, New York. The trucks partnered with local highway department resources with snow removal of key roadways. The Oshkosh H-Series blower vehicle can throw as much as 5,000 tons of snow an hour as far as 200 feet.
More than a dozen support missions were completed for the city and county in the first 36 hours of response, clearing snow from roofs of buildings at risk, transporting nurses to key medical facilities to ensure continued service, removing snow from entrances to disabled homes, assisting in the recovery of stranded motorists, providing traffic control to law enforcement to keep vehicles from closed roads and highways and assisting in the large-scale clearance of vast amounts of snow to create access for first responders.
Adding manpower to the physically demanding snow removal missions on many critical flat roofs covered by heavy snow, 50 additional Soldiers from the Troy-based 42nd Infantry Division Headquarters also joined the force, arriving Nov. 20.
Emergency responders’ request for high-axle vehicles led the Joint Force Headquarters to alert the 53rd Troop Command to deploy an addition 35 Humvees with an additional 70 Military Police Soldiers from Buffalo’s 105th Military Police Company to assist in traffic control as directed by local officials from the Erie County Emergency Operations Center.
With weather forecasts showing continued snowfall through Friday, and a warming trend through the weekend that highlighted flooding concerns, the New York National Guard expects to maintain a strong presence in the Erie County Emergency Management Office.
“As I said, it is going to be several days and we have a couple of challenges before the day is over; but we’ve done our homework, we have the preparations, we have the team, we have local leaders who are doing a great job, so at the end of the day we will overcome,” Cuomo said. “But it’s going to be a long day.”