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Hochul thanks heroes of December blizzard, says outside contractors will analyze storm response

Gov. Hochul says state workers who came in to help Western New York during the blizzard saved 650 people and estimates thousands more were helped by neighbors.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Nearly a month after the Christmas blizzard devastated Western New York, government officials took a moment to say "thank you" to everyone who went above and beyond in order to help others during blinding, freezing conditions. 

"Today we'll focus on heroism and what that means. What does it mean to be a hero," Gov. Kathy Hochul said Saturday at Buffalo State. 

Among those heroes honored by government officials, 'Merry Christmas Jay,' Sha'kyra Aughtry, Craig Elston, and everyone in between from first responders, snowmobile clubs who volunteered to help, and even a man who helped to get the 911 call center operating again after a pipe burst.  

"Every call to 911 from a cell phone goes to that location. If Sandor Toth, Mr. Toth, had not jumped into action, alone by himself, and solved that crisis, every 911 call would've gone down for the remainder of that blizzard," Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said. 

Governor Hochul says state workers who came in to help Western New York during the blizzard saved 650 people.

It's estimated thousands more were helped due to the kindness of good Samaritans. Sadly, nearly 50 people were killed in the storm. 

The governor says the state is working on an after-action report on the blizzard and bringing in outside contractors to help them figure out what worked and what didn't. 

"There will be questions. People will say you should have had an independent auditor, someone independent, so we're doing both. We're doing both so we can answer the questions and always be ready for the next storm," Hochul said. 

One of those questions includes why the National Guard wasn't mobilized sooner than Christmas Eve. 

"Anybody we pre-positioned as far as National Guard earlier than we did, they would have been immobilized. I want to be very clear about that. They would have been just like the rescuers who had to be rescued elsewhere," Hochul said. 

The Buffalo Common Council has had extensive discussions about the city's storm response and what they'd like changed. 

As for Erie County, Poloncarz did not comment on their blizzard response, telling 2 On Your Side that he was only taking questions on the governor's event.  

"Just this. I don't want to talk about anything else. This is not Monday morning quarterbacking. I'm not going to do that," Poloncarz said. 

2 On Your Side will continue to press him for answers.

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