US airline passengers hit by more chaos after deadly snowstorm

US airline passengers are facing continued disruption following a deadly blizzard that swept across the country over the Christmas period, with thousands of flights still being cancelled on Tuesday.

According to the flight tracking site FlightAware, more than 3,000 US flights had been cancelled by Tuesday evening, and over 5,000 had been delayed.

The majority of axed flights were operated by Southwest Airlines, which accounted for 64 per cent of Tuesday’s cancellations, according to FlightAware.

Southwest said it would operate just one-third of its flight schedule “for the next several days” due to “continuing challenges impacting our customers and employees in a significant way that is unacceptable”.

On Monday, the US Department of Transportation wrote on Twitter: “USDOT is concerned by Southwest’s unacceptable rate of cancellations and delays & reports of lack of prompt customer service.”

The travel chaos comes in the aftermath of a blizzard that left more than two dozen people dead and thousands without power, in what local officials described as the area’s deadliest snowstorm in decades.

States across the US were struck by the storm, with the hardest-hit area being New York’s Erie County, which includes the city of Buffalo, the state’s second-largest city.

Speaking on Monday, New York governor Kathy Hochul said visiting the area was like “going to a war zone”.

The blizzard, which meteorologists have described as a “bomb cyclone”, denoting a storm that intensifies rapidly, has caused temperatures across the US to plummet to as low as minus 40C over the Christmas period.

The national weather service had warned last week that more than 200mn people, or roughly 60 per cent of the US population, were under some form of winter weather warning or advisory.

President Joe Biden late on Monday declared an emergency in New York, authorising the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Department of Homeland Security to co-ordinate relief efforts.

Erie County executive Mark Poloncarz said at a news conference on Monday that the death count had risen overnight from 13 to 25. The overall number of fatalities from the storm in western New York was at least 28, the Associated Press reported.

Poloncarz said a number of the deaths were cardiac events related to snow shovelling and snow blowing, adding that this storm was potentially more deadly than New York’s blizzard of 1977.

“The Blizzard of ’77 lasted longer, three days of terrible conditions. This was two days of terrible conditions, but the ferocity of the storm was worse than the Blizzard of ’77 and now it appears we’ve had more deaths countywide,” said Poloncarz.

He added that as of Tuesday, more than 13,000 people have had their electricity restored but more than 12,000 were still without power.

Erie County undersheriff William Cooley described the blizzard as “a generational storm”.

In response to reports of looting in the area, Cooley said it was “unfortunate that there’s some opportunistic criminals in our society”, adding that Buffalo’s police department had made an arrest.

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