New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said Thursday it would be “impractical” to play Sunday’s NFL game between the Bills and the Jets with the Buffalo area buried under more than six feet of snow and a second band of lake-effect snow predicted.
“Everybody would love to see a Bills game, but I think even more, everybody wants to make sure public safety comes first,” Cuomo told reporters at a news conference.
Getting the two teams and the fans to Ralph Wilson Stadium in Buffalo would only be part of the problem facing the NFL and Bills’ management. The other would be clearing the 220,000 tons of snow off the field and out of the seating areas.
The Bills asked their fans to help, offering money and free tickets in exchange for volunteer snow shovelers. In the end, though, the NFL moved the game to Detroit on Monday night.
But as important as the Bills are to the Buffalo economy, it is easy to understand why Cuomo would believe he has more important matters to deal with as the city and neighboring communities suffer through one of the worst snowstorms in history, with another month to go before the official start of winter.
Eight people had been found dead and more than 100 remained trapped in vehicles as Cuomo held his press conference two days after declaring a state of emergency for more than 10 counties in upstate New York. By Thursday night, the death toll had risen to 10.
Under the state of emergency declaration, Cuomo sent 526 snow plows, 74 large loaders, 17 large snowblowers, and four truck-mounted snowblowers, along with 1,247 operators and supervisors to the snowed-in counties.
The New York State Department of Transportation also moved 199 plows and 446 operators and supervisors from around the state to Western New York to assist with snow removal operations.
New York State Police already had 66 4×4 vehicles, six ATVs, four snowmobiles, and three 4WD heavy-duty armored vehicles assigned to storm-response efforts.
Cuomo also mobilized 150 National Guard soldiers and airmen for storm duty.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) sent equipment and personnel to assist in the cleanup of the historic snowfall in Buffalo: three jumbo snowblowers along with plow trucks and other equipment, and 22 ConnDOT staff maintainers – enough people to operate the equipment around the clock.
The snowblowers are mounted on traditional loaders and, when in operation, are followed by plow trucks to assist in clearing roads. Connecticut purchased 12 of these large snowblowers in October 2013. They can move 1,500 tons of snow per hour.
“This early and massive snowfall has paralyzed much of New York and, while we can, we should help our neighbors to the west,” said Gov. Dan Malloy (D-Conn.).
The trucks hauling the equipment left Connecticut early Thursday morning and were expected to remain in Buffalo until at least Monday, Nov. 24.
In addition to people stranded in homes with their roofs collapsing and front doors caving in under the pressure of the snow, the storm was a nightmare for people in cars, trucks and buses on the New York State Thruway, a system of limited-access highways that connect the cities of Erie, Buffalo and Albany in northern and western New York state.
The New York State Thruway Authority’s 237 plow operators and supervisors worked on the storm with 116 plow trucks, 21 front-end loaders, four large truck-mounted snowblowers and 35,000 tons of salt, but it wasn’t enough to keep hundreds of people from spending a long, cold day and night stranded in their cars.
The Niagara University women’s basketball team, along with their coach’s two young children, spent more than 24 hours stranded in their bus before being rescued.
Cuomo has been criticized for not closing the Thruway soon enough after the snow began falling. He deflected that criticism to the people who became stranded on the Thruway after being told to stay at home.
“Whatever you do, it is going to be an imperfect situation,” he said. “Once you’ve closed the road there are still going to be cars on it, and even though it was closed people still went on the Thruway.”
And still, the Buffalo Bills worked to get ready for their game against the Jets. In a way they had no other choice, what with Bills coach Doug Marrone and his staff snowed in at One Bills Drive.
The grounds crew was faced with the task of removing 220,000 tons of snow from the stadium and surrounding areas. That’s enough to fill the ADPRO Sports Complex, where the Bills practice, eight times.
That’s why the Bills were looking for people to help with the shoveling efforts.
Once the driving ban is lifted in Orchard Park, Bills’ vice president of operations Andy Major said the team would be paying $10 per hour and offering game tickets for anyone interested in helping with the shoveling efforts.
“We’re looking to have 500 shovelers on site working those triple shifts,” Major said. “We can’t have too many people helping.”
Not everyone, even Bills fans, are applauding that sentiment.
Mark Poloncarz, the Erie County executive, told Time Warner Cable News the Bills ought to forget about trying to prep the stadium.
“I’m sorry, Buffalo Bills,” he said, “we have a major emergency going on and that matters more, truthfully, than whether we have a football game on Sunday.”
Scott Berchtold, the Bills’ senior vice president of communications, said before the Detroit decision that any call would be made by the NFL.
“We’ve had conversations with the league but they’ve just been about where we are right now,” said Berchtold.
“It’s not up to the Bills. It’s the league that would decide anything like that. All of our attention right now and all of our focus is at 1 o’clock on Sunday.”