a deadly winter storm brings a big chill over the Christmas weekend

The Christmas weekend has been turned upside down for millions of Americans as they battle a severe winter storm accompanied by extreme temperatures that has left many roads impassable, caused the cancellation of thousands of flights and killed at least 17 people.

Cold poses a deadly risk

About 530,000 homes were still without power Saturday around 22:00 GMT (vs. up to 1.5 million the day before), according to the Poweroutage.us site, especially in North Carolina and Maine, where temperatures were largely negative.

The US National Weather Service (NWS) warned that the cold posed a fatal risk and urged Americans in the affected areas to stay indoors. On Friday, the temperature fell due to the wind to -48°C, according to the same source.

In hard-hit northeastern New York, Gov. Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard to Erie County and Buffalo, the state capital, where officials said emergency services are nearly paralyzed.

More than 3,300 flights have been cancelled

The situation is particularly impressive in Buffalo, which is on the other side of the Canadian border. A couple from this lakeside town told AFP that because the roads are impassable, they will not make the ten-minute journey needed to visit their family over Christmas.

“We can see across the street right now, but last night we couldn’t even see over our front porch,” Rebecca Bortolin, 40, said.

Her fiance Ali Lawson suffers from back pain but prefers to stay at home rather than take the risk of driving to the hospital. Since Wednesday evening, a winter storm, one of the most violent in decades, has hit the country, and the accompanying polar winds have caused heavy snowfall, especially in the area around the Great Lakes.

More than 3,300 flights were canceled Saturday and more than 7,500 delayed. The day before, nearly 6,000 flights had been canceled, according to the monitoring site Flightaware.com.

17 died in eight states

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said on Twitter on Saturday that “the most extreme disruptions are behind us, with airlines and airports gradually resuming operations” – words that were latched onto by travelers stranded at airports such as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Detroit and New York are hoping for a Christmas miracle.

Zack Cuyler, 35, is forced to spend New Year’s Eve with friends in New York after two cancellations of his flight to Houston this week, where he was supposed to be reunited with his family. Although he is “quite overwhelmed”, he should be able to join his loved ones mid-day on Sunday, Christmas Day. “What I’m grateful for,” he told AFP.

In total, authorities have confirmed at least 17 deaths in eight states due to the weather.

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