A public works employee was killed on Wednesday while assisting the ongoing snow removal efforts in Buffalo, New York, in an accident that local officials called “heartbreaking” as they confirmed that an investigation into the death is underway.

The employee, who has not been identified, worked for the city for decades, said Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown at a news conference where he was joined by police commissioner Joseph Gramaglia. Based on a preliminary investigation, at around 11:15 a.m., the employee was fatally struck by a high lift vehicle that was shoveling snow and hit him while driving in reverse, according to Gramaglia. 

The worker was dead at the scene, the police commissioner said.

“We are heartbroken. We are in pain right now having suffered this loss,” said Brown at the news conference, where he called the accident “a terrible tragedy” and described the worker as a “very experienced member of our city team” and “a very experienced member of our city family.”

Whiteout conditions were already in place in Buffalo, N.Y. late on Nov. 17, 2022, at the start of what forecasters said was a mega snowstorm that could dump as much as four feet on parts of the region before ending over the weekend.

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Authorities are conducting an accident investigation to determine exactly what occurred leading up to the employee’s death, which will include an inspection of the vehicles involved, the police commissioner said. In Buffalo, ongoing snow removal operations have enlisted help from nearly 200 “pieces of heavy equipment” to clear away snow in south Buffalo and move it elsewhere, Gramaglia explained. 

“These are always tough scenes, and it’s compounded when it’s a friend and when it’s a person who’s well-known to those who are on the scene investigating the accident as well as the coworkers,” said Gramaglia. “So our hearts go out to the family. Our hearts go out to the workers out here that have been working so hard for days on end. It’s a terrible loss.”

The citywide efforts followed a snowstorm last week that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called “historic” as it dumped potentially record-high amounts of snow on various cities and towns east of Lakes Erie and Ontario. Parts of Buffalo were hit quite hard by the storm, with the National Weather Service recording 77 inches in Orchard Park, just south of Buffalo, on Saturday. The storm was at least the most severe since November 2014, when some areas south of the city were hit with seven feet of snow that caused significant damage to homes and buildings.