Hurricane Sandy-Superstorm Weakening, Worst Has Passed For Pa.

Associated Press

A one-two punch of rain and high wind from a monster hybrid storm that started out as a hurricane battered Pennsylvania, leaving more than a million people without power as officials prepared to assess the damage Tuesday.

The storm soaked Philadelphia and its suburbs Monday night but forecasters said the worst was behind the state by daybreak Tuesday.

Major interstates around Philadelphia reopened Tuesday morning although some speed and vehicle restrictions remained in place across the state. Additional road closures were likely in the day ahead, as the center of the storm was forecast to turn north from the Harrisburg area.

The severity of the storm in Pennsylvania expressed itself during the day Monday through a set of increasingly worrisome numbers, from the hundreds of people who fled their homes in the southeastern part of the state to the power outages affecting more than 1.2 million customers by early Tuesday.

At least four deaths were attributed to the storm. They included an elderly Lancaster County man who fell on Sunday from a tree he was trimming in advance of the approaching storm.

An 8-year-old boy died when tree limb fell on him in Franklin Township, north of Montrose. In Berks County, a 62-year-old man died after a tree fell on top of a house in Pike Township near Boyertown. And in Somerset County a woman died when the car she was riding in skidded off a snowy, slushy roadway and overturned into a pond.

PECO reported 585,000 without power in Philadelphia and nearby counties, a total which would fluctuate as residents awoke to find their service disrupted.

“This will still be multiple days,” PECO spokesman Fred Maher said Tuesday morning. “We’ll be able to get a lot of folks back up pretty quickly, but it’ll take us several days to get everybody back to power.”

About 3,000 repairmen from Ohio, Kentucky and Chicago were poised to help the state’s utilities restore service.

PPL said the storm caused 395,000 outages in its service territory, enough to rank it among the top 3 or 4 in its history. Crews were out at daybreak taking stock of the damage, and the company planned to send up a chopper to do an aerial survey. A spokesman said power might not be fully restored for a week or more.

“From a weather standpoint, this is a much larger, more powerful and dynamic storm than Hurricane Irene last year,” PPL spokesman Michael Wood said. “Outages just accumulated remarkably fast.”

“We ask everybody to stay inside and stay off the roads, if possible,” said Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett set up shop inside the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters outside Harrisburg, where top aides and Cabinet members were providing running updates and helping make spot decisions as events unfold. He activated 1,600 members of the National Guard, making them ready for deployment to trouble spots.

“This is going to be an event that for a period of time is going to alter the way we do things,” Corbett said.

The storm snapped trees in and around Philadelphia. Caution tape blocked both streets at one South Philadelphia intersection where splintered trees had landed on top of vehicles.

Downed trees, power lines and flooding forced a significant number of road closures across the eastern part of the state. PennDOT reopened Interstates 95 and 676 in the city and previously closed stretches of I-76 and 476 on Tuesday morning but reported much work still needed to be done.

High winds were so bad at one point PennDOT pulled its crews off the roads for a time for safety reasons, spokesman Charles Metzger said Tuesday morning.

“As many trees as we’re going after, we had more trees coming around our guys,” he said.

Flooding, a major fear following last year’s inundations, proved to be only a minor issue by Tuesday morning.

The National Weather Service issued small stream and urban flood warnings into Tuesday morning. The Schuylkill River and Perkiomen Creek were each expected to reach flood stage in the Philadelphia suburbs, but forecasters expected it to remain below its banks in the city.

Snow associated with the hybrid storm hit upper elevations in western Pennsylvania, including nine inches reported on Mount Davis, the highest point in the state.

Government offices, many courts and countless schools were shuttered on Monday and planned to remain closed at least through Tuesday. US Airways canceled all flights Tuesday out of Philadelphia International Airport and the city’s transit system was preparing to assess damage before making a decision on restarting service.

Corbett extended Tuesday’s absentee ballot application deadline for a day or two for counties where the courthouses were closed Monday, Tuesday or both.

Two juveniles were injured in Levittown around 8:30 p.m. Monday night, one of them seriously, when a tree fell on them while they were outside during the storm, said John D. Dougherty Jr., the county’s director of emergency services. Fallen trees also slowed fire trucks responding to a house fire in Tinicum Township, he said, and the home burned to the ground; no one was hurt.

The Red Cross set up 58 evacuation centers that could shelter 31,000 people. Hundreds of people were evacuated in the Philadelphia suburbs of Bensalem Township and Darby Borough, where officials feared overnight floods.

“I’m not going through this again,” said Sheila Gladden, who left her home in Philadelphia’s Eastwick neighborhood. “They’re telling me this is going to be worse than (1999 Hurricane) Floyd because this is some superstorm. I’m not going back until the water’s receded.”

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania early Monday that will allow state officials to request federal funding and other storm assistance.

Posted earlier on Cumberlink:

Highways were shut down and hundreds of residents in southeastern Pennsylvania left their homes Monday ahead of the massive storm Sandy that officials had warned of for days.

In Lancaster County, the first storm-related death was reported.

Statewide more than 300,000 electric customers has lost power by Monday evening. Officials warned that Sandy, which lost its status as a hurricane Monday evening, remained a dangerous storm that promised to bring power outages that could last for days.

Sheila Gladden evacuated her home in Philadelphia’s flood-prone Eastwick neighborhood and headed to a hotel, preferring not to take any chances.

“I’m not going through this again,” said Gladden, who had 5½ feet of water in her home after Hurricane Floyd in 1999. “They’re telling me this is going to be worse than Floyd because this is some superstorm. I’m not going back until the water’s receded.”

The storm had state and local officials bracing for the worst. Major highways in and out of Philadelphia, as well as four bridges spanning the Delaware River into New Jersey, were shut down to all but emergency vehicles as the rain and wind intensified with Sandy’s approach.

“This is a hurricane inside of a nor’easter. … (It) will cover the entire 300 miles of Pennsylvania,” Gov. Tom Corbett said.

Lancaster County Coroner Stephen Diamantoni said Monday night that an elderly man was trimming a tree in Rapho Township on Sunday, in preparation for the storm, when a limb broke and he fell to the ground. An autopsy Monday concluded that the man, whose name was not released, died of multiple injuries sustained in the fall, Diamantoni said.

The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission advised residents of about 80 low-lying homes downstream of the Speedwell Forge Lake Dam near Lititz in Lancaster County to evacuate Monday evening. The evacuation was issued as a precaution to residents along the nearby Hammer and Cocalico creeks, said Randall Gockley, the county’s emergency management coordinator.

In Delaware County, floodwaters were rising on both the Chester and Brandywine creeks and were expected to get higher. Residents in flood-prone areas were hunkered down at local firehouses and schools, said Ed Truitt of the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency.

“Things are still manageable but we’re expecting more damage later on tonight,” he said. “High tide comes at around 8 o’clock, and as the rain and winds increase we’re expecting trees down, wires down, outages.”

Hundreds of people were in more than two dozen shelters scattered from Philadelphia to central Pennsylvania in the hours before Sandy’s worst was expected to hit. In the suburban Philadelphia communities of Darby and Bensalem, hundreds more residents were ordered from their homes amid fears of flooding that could peak overnight.

Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said it was better to get residents near the flood-prone Neshaminy Creek out early than deal with a dangerous situation at 2 a.m.

“It could be the worst we’ve ever seen,” he said.

In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter said as many as 10,000 people live in low-lying areas. Some have headed to shelters while many others are staying with family or friends.

“If we need to evacuate, we will,” he said.

Officials said city offices would remain closed Tuesday, along with Philadelphia’s public schools and mass transit. Schools would also close in Pittsburgh and other western Pennsylvania school districts.

In west Philadelphia, Veronica Price heard the warnings of city officials Sunday night and decided she should head straight to a shelter after church.

So, she “dressed down” for church and went directly to a city shelter at West Philadelphia High School after the service. As someone who lives alone, she knew she was one of the people the city was urging to head for a shelter.

“I said … ‘That’s me, I’m out,” said Price, 66, who was most worried about going days without power. “I got my bag and came straight here.”

High wind and flood warnings were in effect for much of southeastern Pennsylvania, where winds of up to 75 mph and up to 10 inches of rain were possible.

Mike Dangelo, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in State College, said the strongest of the winds will lash south-central, southeastern and northeastern Pennsylvania Monday night into early Tuesday. Major rivers will stay within their banks, but small streams in southern Pennsylvania will flood, he said.

“People are starting to have power outages with not even the strongest of the winds here yet,” Dangelo said.

A 2-month-old baby was injured early Monday when a falling tree crashed into the second story of a house in a Philadelphia suburb and cut the sleeping infant’s face, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. The child was in good condition at a hospital, he said.

Darby Mayor Helen Thomas said her town opened its recreation center to more than 150 people that had to leave their homes. Local businesses were helping to feed evacuees.

“We’re going to do what we’ve got to do to help our residents,” she said, adding, “we won’t turn away anyone.”

Michael Dornblum, a furniture store manager in Philadelphia’s low-lying Manayunk neighborhood, had stacked sandbags and caulked doors in anticipation of the Schuylkill River overflowing its banks.

“We’ve been through probably a dozen floods that come into the street in the front of the building. And this appears to be the scariest one,” he said.

The Pennsylvania National Guard expected to activate 1,600 soldiers for assignments ranging from search and rescue helicopter missions to delivering supplies, Staff Sgt. Matthew Jones said.

President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania early Monday that will allow state officials to request federal funding and other storm assistance.

In portions of western Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for areas that could get more than 2 inches of rain Monday and Tuesday, causing some flooding along small streams or where drainage is poor. Snow was expected later in the week.

In Easton, The Express-Times newspaper said it would deliver Tuesday’s paper with Wednesday’s editions due to deteriorating conditions. The newspaper would be available, however, at some stores and single-copy locations.

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