|The information below was compiled from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District publication entitled "Operation Snow Go - Blizzard of '77". This is an excellent, detailed post-storm report for nine counties affected by the blizzard in New York State.|
Appendix B contains a short synopsis of a number of newspaper articles that appeared in the Buffalo Evening News, Courier Express, and the Watertown Daily Times.
The intent of this section is to give an all-around view of the many events which transpired during those few unforgettable days. These tidbits touch upon the many heroes, hard workers, acts of kindness, tragedies, and near tragedies that took place. They tell of many who came from near and far to help, of those who opened their doors, of those who gave so much, and unfortunately of the very few who only took advantage of an already bad situation and made it worse by looting or instituting price gouging. They tell of the many new weather records set, of the funny things, and of the sad things that happened. They tell of the unbelievable amounts of money spent on snow removal and the large losses suffered by farmers and businessmen. They also tell of the dignitaries who visited the affected areas, but most of all they tell of THE WAY IT WAS, during the "Blizzard of '77."
A Buffalo City Judge visited the Erie County Holding Center and at one point, released without bail some 30 defendants accused of looting during the storm. This was necessary because most of the courts in the area were closed for a week and the jails were swelling.
Hard hit by the Blizzard of '77, 16 of the 25 towns in Erie County joined the city of Buffalo in declaring states of emergency and banning all but essential traffic.
For thousands of Western New York school children and high school and college students the blizzard of Friday, January 28, meant as much as two weeks of unplanned vacation. Most schools were already closed as a result of a winter storm which had swept Western New York the previous Wednesday night. It wasn't until February 7 that most schools and colleges reopened, while most Buffalo public schools reopened on February 14.
During the emergency period the Buffalo Police Dept. answered 9,650 calls for service and the Fire Department answered 1,570 emergency calls. The fire fighters made an incredible save by stopping a three alarm fire at Whitney and Virginia on the night the storm hit. Fears of a "Chicago fire" a blaze that would destroy the city developed as eight dwellings caught fire in the blizzard's 70 mph wind gusts. Fire engine after fire engine became bogged down in snow or blocked behind abandoned cars and trucks on narrow streets. Firemen had to drag the hoses on foot to fight the fire. Before it was over, eight homes were destroyed or damaged, but the heroic efforts of the firemen and others saved the neighborhood.
Near Camp Drum, a 52-ton Marine personnel carrier flattened a State Police car buried under 5-1/2 feet of snow. A sub compact car was marooned alongside it. One report said, "they're both kind of squashed."
A half dozen persons stranded on farms in Lewis county said they were boiling snow for water, and one resident said he would have to kill a calf for food.
A number of women who could not get to hospitals had babies at home without incident.
A young man and his six year old daughter died of carbon monoxide fumes when he started a snow blower in a closed garage. The fumes killed him in the garage and his child in her bedroom.
Another young man was killed in Wyoming County while attempting to free his car from a snow bank. A truck hit his auto. His car then ran over him.
After struggling to keep his driveway cleared, a northern New York resident kept an approaching snowplow from winging the banks back into the drive. He stood in his driveway with a shotgun motioning the operator around his driveway. The driver complied, lifted the wing, and went around.
Three reindeer from the Buffalo Zoo took advantage of the giant drifts and easily jumped the fence for a short-lived vacation from captivity. All were sighted within a mile and brought back in after being tranquilized.
Approximately 66 inches of snow fell on Watertown between 28 Jan '77 and 1 Feb. The total snowfall for Jan. totaled 90.8" breaking the old record of 79.4" set in 1940. The total accumulated snowfall at the end of January amounted to 181", and well over 200" at the end of April. The wind chill factor during the blizzard ranged from -35 F to -47 F at times.
A seven member family who live in a small house near Medina, NY found themselves with a house full of 50 people the night the blizzard hit.
A law enforcement officer's nightmare was filling out an accident report involving 50 cars and 113 people. This occurred on Route 31 near Albion, NY.
Many ambulance crews ignored the danger of going into the elements during the blizzard. They responded to the calls as quickly as possible constantly battling the blowing snow and high drifts. One crew carried a snowmobile with them so that they could reach a woman in labor.
Three days after the storm first hit, a number of hotel-type establishments, which were housing hundreds of stranded people, had begun rationing food in the Watertown area. Lewis County officials said at that time they were considering appealing to Fort Drum for C-rations if the situation continued to worsen.
A number of husbands who were stranded complained that their wives were suspicious and refused to believe conditions were as bad as they said.
Four pedestrians on State St. in Watertown were startled when they saw a motorcyclist appear and then quickly become a fading figure in the storm.
Two Lowville, NY boys were buried alive when a large overhanging snowdrift they were playing under fell on them. They were dug out by a neighbor and parents and then taken to a hospital where they were treated.
One of the largest temporary bedrooms in Watertown was located in the State Office Building. The "bedroom" was actually a second flood lobby, dotted with at least 100 people in green army sleeping bags.
About six days after the blizzard first started the Salvation Army estimated they had fed about 67,000 people, issued warm clothes to an estimate: 4.5000 persons and housed 851 people.
A Lewis County man, on storm watch, had just parked his car with him inside, when his car was run over by an Army armored personnel carrier. No one was hurt, but the car was a total loss.
The weather was so bad at Buffalo that their Chief Meteorologist, James Smith, said he was retiring from the National Weather Service in February.
Records kept at Mannsville, NY in Jefferson County indicated 318.7 inches of snow had fallen from 7 Nov 1976 to 11 Feb 1977. The Blizzard of 77 dumped 74.5 inches on Mannsville. The most snow in a 24-hour period was 56 inches on 29-30 Dec 1976.
Even the Marines had a tough time navigating through the blizzard. A convoy transporting 84 Marines became stranded near Antwerp, NY shortly after the storm began. They were taken to the village fire hall where they spent the night as guests of the village. These Marines along with other military personnel more than returned this kindness in the days that followed by their untiring efforts of mercy missions and snow removal operations.
When a rotary plow driver working an area with drifts 12 feet high was asked if he was concerned about hitting buried objects, he said he wasn't worried about hitting a car, especially small cars. With a straight face, he said, "Vo1kswagens are okay, they go through the rotary blades."
One Watertown family prepared stew for their dinner the night the storm started, they later found they had 53 more plates to fill before the evening ended. Now that's hospitality.
A common phrase heard throughout the affected areas from officials and volunteers who worked many consecutive hours manning radios, phones, cooking, etc. was, "there was no night, no day."
Grand Island, a community surrounded by the Niagara River was cut off from the mainland when the bridges at both ends of the Island were shut down. Erie County Sheriff's Deputies braved wind and driving snow to shuttle snowmobiles over the bridges to find insulin for those who were ill.
Some of the larger plants in the Buffalo area sheltered numerous people overnight. The Bell Aerospace plant in Wheatfie1d housed 1,600, the Ford Woodlawn Plant had 1,800 and Memorial Auditorium hosted another 400.
About 3,000 workers at the Harrison Radiator Division Plant in Lockport spent the night in the factory.
Many people who had to take refuge in local bars report that it was like New Year's Eve.
An Albion, NY couple provided shelter for 73 stranded persons over the blizzard weekend.
On Monday morning a local radio station in Niagara Falls, NY announced that the Salvation Army was running out of food. By 7 p.m. that evening, $17,000 had been pledged to the Salvation Army to help storm victims.
A minister who hopes, somehow, to keep in touch with 200 persons who stayed with him at the church said, "I think an interdenominational prayer service is what we need to get us together with God."
Over 500 National Guardsmen augmented city and State workers. They included the entire l52nd Engineer Battalion, elements of the 22lst Engineer Group and elements of the 42nd Aviation Battalion.
One example of the amount of milk being dumped by the farmers in Western New York was a cooperative report that only three tankers of milk arrived instead of the normal 40 tanker truckloads.
Governor Hugh Carey was asked to send in helicopters to search for persons, alive or dead, who may still be in some of the hundreds of vehicles abandoned in the city and suburbs. Seven bodies were found in cars by Saturday morning.
Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo noted that between 4 and 7 p.m. Friday it provided free meals for 1,400 persons other than patients.
On 29 January, the Buffalo Courier Express reported that it was the first time since 1834 that weather interrupted its publication.
When a Cheektowaga, NY woman saw the storm coming, she went to her kitchen and whipped up enough soup, goulash and sandwiches to feed 120 persons who found shelter in a local Volunteer Fire Company building.
Unofficial estimates place the number of abandoned vehicles in Erie County at 3,500, while approximately 13,000 persons were sheltered in public buildings, hotels and taverns during the storm.
An advance party of a 300 man Army airborne engineer task force from Ft. Bragg, NC arrived at Niagara Falls Air Force Base on 2 February aboard a huge Air Force C5-A transport.
On 9 February, Salvation Army officials stated they had distributed through their Buffalo, Tonawanda, Lockport, Dunkirk and Niagara Falls shelters 46,664 food packages, fed meals to 56,448 persons and another 13,300 in out-stations. They also provided mobile canteen service for 13,300, distributed clothing to 5,797 and provided emergency housing for 2,430.
Over 500 New York National Guardsmen assigned to the Buffalo area were deactivated at midnight on Thursday 10 February.
A Buffalo newspaper reported that, the city has lost track of literally thousands of cars that were towed away during the snow emergency. "They weren't necessarily stolen, just misplaced," said the article. Approximately 4,400 autos had been towed.
Jefferson County estimates state that at least $500,000 in milk was dumped each day during the emergency.
Armored personnel carriers loaded with food, medicine and baby formula lumbered loudly through Watertown, NY, Monday night, 31 January, as the heavy vehicles set out for nearby towns that were short of supplies.
Reports of food and fuel shortages were becoming increasingly common as the storm continued.
On 2 February, at 7:00 a.m., the travel by auto ban was lifted for five hours in the Watertown area. This was done so that many of the 1,900 stranded travelers could leave the city, so as to lessen the demand on scarce food and fuel resources.
On 2 February, an advance party from the Corps Buffalo office arrived by helicopter in Watertown. They were followed by a five-man delegation from the Corps New York District office who directed the cleanup operations from an emergency relief headquarters located in the State Office Building.
On 12 February an estimated 160 tons of Buffalo snow were delivered to Northern New York. It was the only way a Gouverneur company could get 18 badly needed gondola cars.
The phone rang at 3:30 a.m. in the sales office of 1.1. Bean, Freeport, Maine. The caller from Buffalo. "Can I order three pairs of long johns?" he asked a salesman.
A 34-year old polio victim, who uses crutches to walk, manned his four-wheel-drive vehicle over a sporadically interrupted 96-hour stretch during the blizzard. He lugged food and medicines to shut-ins, helped police chase looters, rushed a heart-attack victim to Columbus Hospital, and, when his vehicle got stuck in a drift, shoveled it out by hand.
The only school to remain open and hold classes right through the blizzard of '77 was the Gow School in South Wales, NY. The school has 20 faculty members and 105 boys. "We couldn't close, most of the boys live in distant places and besides, we were snowed in." Classes were held every day including Saturday and Sunday. The school has not closed once in the last 51 years because of snow.
National Guard troops reported, "The people on Grand Island were so glad to see our men, they were chasing them down the road with thermoses of coffee and food. It got to be a safety hazard. We had to ask them to keep away from the machines."
A taxi company asked help in locating three of their cabs which had been missing for one week.
The entire contingent of 31 Coast Guard personnel, including 3 women, were isolated at their Buffalo Base off Fuhrmann Blvd. from 26 January to 6 February. The relief crew took three days to clear the last mile of road to the base.
Although many funeral services were conducted during the week of the storm in spite of the weather and driving bans, very few actual burials took place. Most caskets were stored by funeral directors and cemeteries until conditions allowed actual burials later in February.
The Westchester County Executive returned half of their county's $103,000 emergency hiring money to the Federal Government to be reassigned to Buffalo.
The Buffalo downtown YMCA opened its rooms and showers to women for the first time ever during the storm.
The zero visibility that the blizzard brought occurred so quickly that it trapped Buffalo Airport snow removal crews in their plows while they were working on the runways. Five plows were abandoned as the crews got into one plow and slowly worked their way back to the garage. An airline mechanic emerged from a plane parked on the ramp and got lost on his way to the terminal. He meandered onto the runway and into one of the abandoned plows.
National Guard personnel operating heavy duty open cab snow removal equipment, had to change shifts every 12 to 15 minutes during the extreme cold periods. "Warm Up" trucks stood by so that they could hop in, warm up, then relieve their relief.
Sample answers given to inquiries concerning the driving ban; "Yes, you can drive your wife to the hospital to have her baby; Yes, you can go to a funeral, but not to a wake; Yes, the wedding can go on with the guests arriving by car."
The only serious accident reported, concerning the clearing of hundreds f street miles, occurred on 5 February, when a pedestrian was run Over and killed by a truck full of snow while it was backing down a street.
A Hamburg snowmobile dealer tells the story of a man coming into his store during the height of the blizzard on Friday and asking, "how much does this cost?" pointing to a snowmobile. "What else would I need to drive it? Any special clothing? Special equipment?" After he was completely outfitted he reached into his pocket, peeled off $2,000, and roared off into the night on his new snowmobile.
Shovel off to Buffalo - about 3,500 all-purpose shovels were airlifted into Buffalo from Columbus on 3 February.
There were 100 residents still isolated in Concord, NY, an Erie County town 25 miles south of Buffalo, 11 days after the storm first hit. After President Carter gave his major disaster declaration and the Corps completed its contracts, Buffalo hired three firms to supervise the remaining clean-up of the city. The cost of supervision was estimated at $270,000.
There were many tales of human kindness during the five days of sometimes zero-visibility weather that followed, but there were also stories of irresponsible behavior.
The rash of looting in the east side of Buffalo spread downtown, prompting a local gun shop operator to hand out signs reading, "Trespassers will be shot, survivors will be prosecuted." Thieves took advantage of the immobilized city and stripped abandoned vehicles, broke into homes and used smash-and-grab tactics on shops, police said. Gangs of youths took furniture, beer, radios, cigarettes and other items. At least 100 persons were arrested. It was estimated $200,000 worth of goods were stolen.
One report told of a neighborhood grocer who reportedly charged $2.50 for a half-gallon of milk.
In spite of the fact that officials and volunteers tried to do the very best they could under the circumstances, many phone calls conveyed only awful name calling.
A few of the travelers stranded at Greater Buffalo International Airport report they were charged $10 per person to be driven across the street to local motels. The taxi drivers would not leave until they had five in the car.
The Buffalo Fire Department responded to seven false alarms Friday, 20 Saturday and 15 Sunday.
Police reported that some truck drivers in the south end of Buffalo were toting shotguns around to protect their stalled tractor-trailers.
The Buffalo Fire Department reported the loss of radios and microphones from mired trucks it had been forced to leave at fire scenes during the storm.
More than $1,500 worth of medical supplies were taken from a stalled ambulance. A downtown bar stopped selling individual drinks and began selling by "the bottle only" $16 a bottle.
A downtown hotel doubled the price of its $20 rooms and doubled the cost of the standard l5-cent phone call from the rooms.
Some private taxicab operators quoted "take it or leave it" prices to their passengers.
A private plow operator asked $50 to clear an elderly couple's driveway.
They refused, and another operator came by and cleared the driveway in five minutes, free of charge.
Examples of price gouging - bread $1.00 a loaf, eggs $2.50 a dozen, cookies $1.50 a package.
Towing charges as high as $65 to $80, which seem exorbitant until looking into the facts which revealed that it occasionally took 2-1/2 hours to dig out and deliver the cars or that a service man was utilizing a 40 ton wrecker.
A few residents complained of being charged 70 cents to $1 a gallon for gasoline. The normal cost of regular gas was about 60 cents. A few others complained that unless you were a regular customer you couldn't buy any gasoline at certain stations.
Because of the severe winter, 33 of Buffalo's 79 pieces of snow removal equipment were out of service the day before the blizzard hit.
A Buffalo resident complained about the jokes Don Rickles and Johnny Carson made about the Buffalo area. He admitted the sun doesn't shine over Buffalo as much as other locations, but he also stated the Buffalo area is not plagued by mud slides, brush fires, earthquakes, smog problems, fresh-water shortages, serious floods, hurricanes, tornadoes or shark attacks.
Two fires in Niagara Falls, NY on Friday evening, 28 January, and Saturday morning, 29 January, resulted in 20 fire fighters being taken to the hospital with injuries suffered while battling two multi-alarm fires. All were treated for frost bite, exposure or smoke inhalation.
A report from Columbus Hospital on Niagara Street in Buffalo stated, "People have been walking on the tops of cars because the drifts are so high."
A Cheektowaga motel owner reported they housed four to six guests per room on Friday night.
Two men cruised city streets with a large sign attached to the front of their car reading "Here Comes Help." They got people's cars started, rescued freezing motorists in stalled cars and drove pedestrians home or to other shelters.
From Friday through Wednesday, the Buffalo Chapter of the American Red Cross reported that five tons of food through 84 (14 in the city and 70 in the county) feeding stations had been distributed. They estimate feeding about 50,000 people to that date.
One of Buffalo's largest super market chain stores delivered 7,000 loaves of bread to emergency service agencies on 3 February. The bread was valued at over $3,000.
On 4 February, Buffalo officials announced that a general amnesty was going into effect, canceling all fees and fines for persons whose automobiles were tagged or towed away between noon Friday and midnight Wednesday. They forgave a $12 ticket placed on 2,632 abandoned cars and waived a $25 towing fee for an estimated 500 vehicles.
James Earl "Chip" Carter III, the 26 year old son of President Carter, sent on a fact finding trip to Buffalo on 4 February, said after his two-hour 35-mile whirlwind auto trip of Buffalo, Lancaster and Cheektowaga, "Just beyond conception."
Looking at the Blizzard of 77 in retrospect, one obvious conclusion that strongly shines through is the unselfishness and genuine concern people showed toward one another.