BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A blizzard packing 50 mph winds and sub-zero temperatures dumped nearly 2 feet of snow Sunday and Monday, stranding hundreds of motorists, skiiers and ice hockey fans.
A 54-year-old man was found dead in a snowbank on the city's east side, and another man was found frozen to death in a car stranded on a downtown street. The victims were not identified.
The National Weather Service said the storm had the potential to become just as serious as the 'Blizzard of '77' which shut Buffalo down and killed 23 persons. But the snowfall stopped Monday morning and skies cleared.
Even so, all but emergency travel was banned in Buffalo and nearby suburban and rural counties. Police in Buffalo towed abandoned vehicles dotting city streets so snowplows could begin to dig the city out.
Area schools, industries and federal offices were shut down, but all state buildings in the western New York remained open to serve as shelter for those caught in the storm,
Rescue crews had worked through the night to evacuate motorists stranded in cars, fighting blinding snow and a wind chill factor of 57 degrees below zero.
State police reported a 135-mile stretch of the New York State Thruway was closed from outside Rochester -- 75 miles east of Buffalo - to the Pennsylvania state line.
The snow began about 3 p.m. Sunday. For the next 12 hours, visibility was reduced to zero. By mid-day Monday, 19 inches of snow was recorded in the Buffalo area and more than 20 inches had fallen in Chautauqua County.
A blizzard warning remained in effect with forecasters predicting temperatures around 10 degrees.
The Salvation Army treated 300 hockey fans who spent the night in Memorial Auditorium's restaurant and press lounges to hot soup and coffee. About 2,079 fans had braved the inclement weather to watch the Buffalo Sabres and the Los Angeles Kings play in a National Hockey League game.
'We share season tickets with some people who live in Niagara Falls. I guess I picked the wrong game,' said Ross Forrest of Mississaugua, Ont., who spent the night at the auditorium with his 8-year-old son, Sean.
At the Kissing Bridge ski resort in Glenwood, just south of Buffalo, 300 skiers found themselves waiting out the storm. Hundreds of travelers at the Greater Buffalo International Airport in suburban Cheektowaga and the downtown bus station also were stranded.
More than 150 motorists camped out in the Pembroke service area on the state Thruway about 25 miles northeast of Buffalo when blowing snow made driving impossible and the superhighway was closed from Rochester to the Pennsylvania border.
'People slept on the floor, benches, tables, on a couple of army cots,' reported John Caher of Canandaigua. 'Some people slept in telephone booths and on newspapers. One person slept on top of the cigarette machine.'
When Larry Klemp of South Buffalo tried to drive to work at Consolidated Freightway in Tonawanda Sunday night, it took him 20 minutes to get five blocks. He abandoned his car and spent the night at his mother-in-law's house.
'It was blowing so hard it was a total whiteout. All of a sudden the moisture from the outside and the inside combined and the car windows completely froze,' Klemp said.
A veteran of the Buffalo blizzard of 1977, Klemp reported, 'I consider this storm worse. It was colder this time. And with the wind blowing, anybody out there without proper clothing would have frozen in five minutes.'
Amtrak's eastbound Lakeshore Limited from Chicago found itself stranded in Buffalo, and service between Syracuse and Buffalo was canceled until Tuesday at the earliest, due to the weather and a train derailment.