Emergency procedures will be reviewed after a lake-effect snowstorm and a flawed response left hundreds of motorists stranded for hours on a highway, the head of the New York State Thruway Authority said Friday.
Executive Director Michael Fleischer said the agency should have closed nearly two dozen non-toll entrance ramps to Interstate 90 much sooner after jackknifed tractor-trailers blocked traffic just east of Buffalo. He also said officials should have done a better job alerting drivers that delays loomed ahead and shouldn't have waited so long to get help to the stranded motorists, some stuck for 20 hours or more.
"We do need to do a better job of taking care of the human element," he said. "The Thruway does pride itself on its snow- and ice-clearing capabilities in upstate New York. This was not a great example, but we're committed to maintaining that reputation."
The Lake Erie-fed storm began Wednesday and continued through Thursday, burying parts of Buffalo and some suburbs under two to three feet of snow. Dozens of schools canceled classes Thursday and again Friday.
Two deaths were blamed on the weather. Stephanie Veratti, 26, of Gasport, died Thursday night after her car slid and collided with a truck in suburban Amherst, authorities said. Lancaster police said a 78-year-old man died Thursday after collapsing while shoveling snow. His name was not released.
State police Sgt. Gregory Peron said I-90 reopened in both directions shortly after 6 a.m. Friday.
Police closed I-90 at about 3 a.m. Thursday after a truck jackknifed the previous evening and vehicles were backed up and buried in blowing snow. Drivers also were temporarily stranded on a 3-mile stretch of Interstate 190.
Emergency crews on ATVs passed out water and protein bars and buses were sent to pick up motorists.
State police had no reports of medical emergencies, although one older motorist who uses oxygen was among the stranded and was taken to safety, Capt. Michael Nigrelli said Thursday.
Nigrelli said the combination of fast-falling snow and the large number of commercial vehicles — many of which had to be towed out after the snow piled up around them — slowed the reopening of the road.
"Unfortunately, that's not something that can be undone very quickly," he said.