(Update 1: Adds flight cancellations, details and edits throughout, changes headline, lede, dateline)
Washington/New York City, Dec 28 (EFE).- Thousands of Southwest Airlines flight cancellations caused chaos on Wednesday at airports across the United States in the wake of Winter Storm Elliot.
On Wednesday alone, more than 2,880 flights were canceled in the country, with more than 2,500 of them belonging to Southwest.
A US official demanded that the company uphold its obligations for compensation and refunds to the passengers and warned that the storm, which subsided days ago, cannot continue to be used as an excuse.
Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with ABC that “we are past the point where they could say that this is a weather-driven issue.”
He attributed the chaos to a “system failure” of the airline and added his office will be watching to see if the Dallas, Texas, company is “meeting its obligations” to stranded passengers.
To try to alleviate the financial cost that the cancellations have had on fliers, several of the main US airlines, including American, United and Delta, announced that they would impose a maximum price on tickets from some cities until next Monday, US media reported.
Southwest said on its website that those who have had flights canceled can request a refund and those who planned travel through Jan. 2 can change their trip at no additional cost.
According to the Flight Aware website, the airports most affected by cancellations and delays are Denver, Las Vegas, Chicago Midway and Baltimore, which provides coverage to the US capital, Washington.
Winter Storm Elliot, which impacted the country last week with frigid temperatures, heavy snowfall and hurricane-force winds, has left more than 50 people dead across the country, with western New York state being the hardest-hit area with 37 deaths.
Buffalo, in Erie County, New York state, was the area hardest hit by the storm and President Joe Biden decreed a state of emergency.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz, said Wednesday that the county’s health department had confirmed another three storm-related deaths.
The three latest victims come after three other deaths were announced Wednesday morning, on top of the 31 fatalities that had been announced on Tuesday.
Of those people, 17 were found outside, nine died due to lack of heating in their homes, four were found in a vehicles, four more died of heart problems and three died because emergency services could not reach them in time.
“Of the 37 deaths, 29 were in the City of Buffalo, 7 were in the suburbs and 1 is unknown. There are multiple unidentified bodies at this point. I offer my very deepest sympathies and condolences to all who have lost a loved one from this terrible Blizzard,” Poloncarz tweeted.
Meanwhile, the authorities in the area continue the work on repairs and to remove snow, especially in Buffalo where a driving ban will be lifted at 12.01 am Thursday.
“National Grid is reporting only 62 customers in Erie County without power, and those are expected to be restored this evening,” Poloncarz wrote on Twitter.
Buffalo police said that 450 snow removal machines are working to clear the city streets and the mayor, Byron Brown, announced the opening of 11 bus lines, along with the local train service.
The center, south and east of the country is expected to experience a sharp rise in temperatures in the coming days, ahead of New Year.
The National Meteorological Service said in a statement that temperatures well above average are expected in these areas by the end of the week.