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State of emergency declared in US as seven die in snowstorms

“Buffalo is buried in snow,” exclaimed the New York Post. The cold weather that has held America in its icy grip this week was not, however, limited to the freezing East Coast.

Every state in the US experienced sub-zero temperatures this week, as Arctic weather moved south and snow covered more than half of the country on Tuesday. According to the US National Weather Service (NWS), areas in all 50 states fell below zero degrees Celsius – including Hawaii, where the temperature dipped below freezing at the summit of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano on the archipelago’s Big Island, which rises 13,800ft above sea level.

The NWS said 50.2 per cent of the country had snow on the ground on Tuesday morning. By yesterday morning, Tallahassee in Florida shared the same chilly temperature as Anchorage, Alaska.

Among the worst-hit areas was western New York state, where Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency across 10 counties, deploying National Guard troops to assist residents after snow fell in some areas at a rate of five inches per hour. In parts of Erie County and the city of Buffalo, at least 60 inches (1.5m) of snow fell, at a rate too intense for snowploughs to tackle properly.

An NWS spokesman told the Buffalo News that the snowstorm was “a historic event”, and that there was no meteorological term to describe the “wall of snow” that moved across the region.

For some residents of upstate New York battered by one of the worst lake-effect storms in memory the hardest task was getting the doors of their homes open with snow piled six foot deep in some areas.  For one family, it was the opposite problem. An avalanche of snow from their roof blew their back door in.

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Firefighters from West End Hose Company in Depew, N.Y. help a stuck motorist on Transit Road

Firefighters from West End Hose Company in Depew, N.Y. help a stuck motorist on Transit Road

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A woman walks along a snow-covered street in the south Buffalo area of New York. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

A woman walks along a snow-covered street in the south Buffalo area of New York. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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Brian Cintron walks in his snow-bound south Buffalo neighborhood on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Brian Cintron walks in his snow-bound south Buffalo neighborhood on Thursday in Buffalo, N.Y. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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Cars were buried in the deep snow in the south Buffalo area of New York. Emergency workers are now filling thousands of sand bags, with the area braced for potential flooding as warming temperatures are beginning to melt up to seven feet (2 metres) of snow
(AP Photo/Mike Groll)

Cars were buried in the deep snow in the south Buffalo area of New York. Emergency workers are now filling thousands of sand bags, with the area braced for potential flooding as warming temperatures are beginning to melt up to seven feet (2 metres) of snow (AP Photo/Mike Groll)

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A bulldozer clears the way for an ambulance in a neighborhood in West Seneca

A bulldozer clears the way for an ambulance in a neighborhood in West Seneca

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A man digs out his driveway in Depew, New York.

A man digs out his driveway in Depew, New York.

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Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York is buried in snow.

Ralph Wilson Stadium in Orchard Park, New York is buried in snow.

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Homes are covered in snow in West Seneca, New York. The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as five feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring two to three more feet by late Thursday.

Homes are covered in snow in West Seneca, New York. The Buffalo area found itself buried under as much as five feet of snow Wednesday, with another lake-effect storm expected to bring two to three more feet by late Thursday.

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Cars are stranded on Mile Strip Road at the entrance to Route 219 near Buffalo, N.Y.,Wednesday

Cars are stranded on Mile Strip Road at the entrance to Route 219 near Buffalo, N.Y.,Wednesday

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Surveillance footage shows a person climbing through piles of snow next to abandoned vehicles on the Thruway, near Lackawanna, New York. (AP Photo/New York State Thruway Authority)

Surveillance footage shows a person climbing through piles of snow next to abandoned vehicles on the Thruway, near Lackawanna, New York. (AP Photo/New York State Thruway Authority)

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A snow-covered jeep SUV drives along Route 20 after a massive snow fall in Lancaster, New York. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

A snow-covered jeep SUV drives along Route 20 after a massive snow fall in Lancaster, New York. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

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A massive band of lake effect snow moves through the south of Buffalo, N.Y. on Tuesday  (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

A massive band of lake effect snow moves through the south of Buffalo, N.Y. on Tuesday (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

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A Roundtop Mountain Resort employee makes snow in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, as arctic air arrived in the midstate area with temperatures reaching 30 degrees.  (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Sean Simmers)

A Roundtop Mountain Resort employee makes snow in Lewisberry, Pennsylvania, as arctic air arrived in the midstate area with temperatures reaching 30 degrees. (AP Photo/PennLive.com, Sean Simmers)

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Snow covers a street at daybreak Wednesday (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

Snow covers a street at daybreak Wednesday (AP Photo/Carolyn Thompson)

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Airman Apprentice Franklen Garett makes a snow angel during Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Monday

Airman Apprentice Franklen Garett makes a snow angel during Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony at the Gerald R. Ford Presidential Museum in Grand Rapids, Mich. on Monday

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A New York State snowblower removes snow on Broadway in Lancaster   (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

A New York State snowblower removes snow on Broadway in Lancaster (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

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A CSX freight train plows its way past the Cemetery Rd. overpass in Lancaster,  N.Y. Wednesday (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

A CSX freight train plows its way past the Cemetery Rd. overpass in Lancaster, N.Y. Wednesday (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

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Cars with snow atop the roofs sit idle at this home on Broadway in Lancaster, New York (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

Cars with snow atop the roofs sit idle at this home on Broadway in Lancaster, New York (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

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Christine Bloom works to clear snow off her vehicle to try and make it to work in Hamburg, N.Y.

Christine Bloom works to clear snow off her vehicle to try and make it to work in Hamburg, N.Y.

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Paul Lorenzo clears snow along Powers Road in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Harry Scull Jr.)

Paul Lorenzo clears snow along Powers Road in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Harry Scull Jr.)

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A plane negotiates its way through the snow at Buffalo Greater International Airport, in Buffalo. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

A plane negotiates its way through the snow at Buffalo Greater International Airport, in Buffalo. (AP Photo/Gary Wiepert)

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A Depew firefighter uses a snowmobile to travel down Transit Road (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

A Depew firefighter uses a snowmobile to travel down Transit Road (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

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In a photo from Nov. 11, 2014, Alan Messner shovels the sidewalk in front of Surplus Outlet in downtown Houghton, Mich. (AP Photo/Daily Mining Gazette, Dan Roblee)

In a photo from Nov. 11, 2014, Alan Messner shovels the sidewalk in front of Surplus Outlet in downtown Houghton, Mich. (AP Photo/Daily Mining Gazette, Dan Roblee)

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A Marquette Department of Public Works snow-plow truck gets a tow from a front-end loader while snow falls in Marquette, Mich. (AP Photo/The Mining Journal, Ryan Jarvi)

A Marquette Department of Public Works snow-plow truck gets a tow from a front-end loader while snow falls in Marquette, Mich. (AP Photo/The Mining Journal, Ryan Jarvi)

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In this photo provided by Patrick Bryne, his dog, Bonnie, sniffs a door  blocked with snow on Tuesday (AP Photo/Patrick Bryne)

In this photo provided by Patrick Bryne, his dog, Bonnie, sniffs a door blocked with snow on Tuesday (AP Photo/Patrick Bryne)

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Drivers cautiously make their way along I-196 at the end of the work day in downtown Grand Rapids (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Emily Rose Bennett)

Drivers cautiously make their way along I-196 at the end of the work day in downtown Grand Rapids (AP Photo/The Grand Rapids Press, Emily Rose Bennett)

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Firefighters from West End Hose Company in Depew, N.Y. help a stuck motorist on Transit Road

“It was a huge crash. We all started running back there. We actually thought that it was the roof coming down in the house,” said Chrissy Gritzke Hazard who was home with her husband, five children and three of her children's friends when the door exploded and snow almost filled an entire room. “We were definitely not expecting it to be the doors blown out, the frame, everything, inside the house.”

Buffalo and surrounding communities are accustomed to winter emergencies when frigid air mixes with moisture over the Great Lakes and then dumps it again as snow on land. But the ferocity of the storm that started on Monday evening and still wasn’t done with on Wednesday took many by surprise. It had been blamed for five deaths in western New York, three from heart attacks.

Emergency services were focused on finding cars trapped on the main interstate highway connecting Buffalo to the rest of the state. As many as 100 cars were reported stranded on a 132-mile stretch of the road. It remained closed today as did scores of schools in the region.

Among those who became trapped were members of Niagara University’s women’s basketball team who were eventually rescued by police and taken early on Wednesday to a nearby police station after roughly 24 hours marooned in their bus. Another victim of nature’s onslaught was Bryce Foreback, 23, of Pennsylvania, who spoke to the Associated Press by mobile phone after waiting 20 hours for help.

"It seemed like a nightmare. It just didn't feel like it was going to end,” he said.  “I haven't slept in like 30 hours and I'm just waiting to get out of here.”

While the largest snowfall amounts were concentrated in a band just to the south of the city of Buffalo, forecasters warned that additional precipitation was likely to shift in a northerly direction impacting the downtown area and northern suburbs before the storm finally winds down early on Thursday.

“This storm is basically a knife that went right through the heart of [New York’s] Erie County,” County Executive Mark Poloncarz, told CNN. “I can’t remember, and I don’t think anyone else can remember, this much snow falling in this short a period.”

Weather watchers were trying to establish whether parts of the county may have surpassed the current record for the most amount of snow to fall in one place held by Silver Lake in Colorado, which in 1921 saw 76 inches drop in one 24-hour period.

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