Death toll rises, thousands without power as winter storm brings blizzard, artic freeze on Christmas

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On Christmas Day, Americans woke up to temperatures plunging below freezing and blizzard warnings in effect for the day as a frigid winter storm swept across the country, killing at least 28 and knocking out power to millions of people. Many churches canceled the Christmas morning services while others were able to open their buildings to help the homeless.

The deaths have occurred due to exposure, car crashes, a falling tree limb and other effects of the storm, according to officials, The Associated Press reported. At least three of the deaths were reported in New York’s Buffalo area where hurricane-force winds caused whiteout conditions Saturday.

Historic blizzard conditions paralyzed emergency efforts and almost every fire truck in the city was stranded in the snow, and Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the Buffalo Niagara International Airport would be closed through Monday morning, the newswire added.

Deaths have been reported in Oklahoma, Ohio, Kansas, Kentucky, Colorado, Missouri, Michigan, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Nebraska and New York. 

Late Saturday, the storm was striking parts of the Upper Midwest and interior Northeast with heavy snow and blizzard conditions. 

At least 345,000 customers were without power nationwide as of Saturday night, said. More than 170,000 of the customers were in the New England region, CBS News reported. 

The AP said a major electricity grid operator warned that the 65 million people it serves across the eastern U.S. could experience rolling blackouts.

Pennsylvania-based PJM Interconnection asked residents in 13 states to conserve electricity through at least Christmas morning and the Tennessee Valley Authority directed local power companies to implement planned interruptions.

Further, more than 5,500 flights within, into or out of the U.S. had been canceled, as of Saturday, according to FlightAware.

Many churches announced they were canceling their Christmas services because of weather conditions.

A list of closings and cancellations in Northeast Ohio prepared by Fox 8 included at least five churches.

A similar list prepared by ABC 6 News showed at least 17 cancellations of Christmas services in Minnesota.

In Iowa, some churches switched to a virtual service, KCRG reported.

The Rev. Gregory Chambers, senior minister at Noelridge Christian Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, was quoted as saying safety was a priority and he would make the decision to hold an online Christmas service based on the weather conditions Sunday morning and what other churches decide.

“We have members in leadership positions who are within Cedar Rapids. They’ve lived here their whole lives. When it snows, they know whether it’s something to be worried about or not.”

Many churches across the country are hosting the homeless.

In Ohio, First United Methodist Church in Middletown provided shelter Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, according to Journal-News. And the warming shelter at Mountainview Fellowship Church in Redmond, Oregon, is running at full capacity, Central Oregon Daily News reported.

Earlier this week, Patrick Feistel, the executive director of Garden City Rescue Mission, a church mission in Agusta Georgia, opened its shelter early to those who needed protection from the dangerously cold temperatures. "On a regular night, it might not be the difference between life and death. But it is now," he told The New York Times

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