PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Highways were closed and hundreds of thousands of residents in southeastern Pennsylvania hunkered down Monday as the massive storm Sandy tore through the state with heavy rain and high winds that damaged buildings, cut out power to more than a million customers and were believed to be connected to at least three deaths.
An 8-year-old Susquehanna County boy died Monday afternoon when a tree limb fell on him in Franklin Township near Montrose, and a 62-year-old Berks County man died in a house collapse caused by a downed tree in Pike Township near Boyertown. Those cases were not officially deemed storm-related because the counties’ coroners hadn’t issued reports citing causes of death.
The first storm-related death was confirmed in Lancaster County. On Sunday, an elderly man was trimming a tree in Rapho Township in preparation for the storm when a limb broke and he fell to the ground, sustaining multiple injuries.
Statewide, more than 1.2 million electric customers lost power by early Tuesday. 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 5 1/2 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.
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, the Chester Creek near Chester and the Brandywine Creek near Chadds Ford had not risen to the catastrophic levels first feared. Residents in flood-prone areas were hunkered down at local firehouses and schools, said Ed Truitt, of the Delaware County Emergency Management Agency.
“It’s not so much the flooding I’m worried about, that’s holding pretty well. It’s the wind,” he said.
The county prison was on backup power because of a transformer that was knocked out, he said. It was just one of many spots around the county where whipping winds toppled trees and power lines, leaving thousands of people in the dark.
Chester County emergency services spokesman Robert Linnenbaugh said the flood-prone eastern branch of the Brandywine near Downingtown also hadn’t caused serious flooding or property damage that residents worried that Sandy would bring.
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. 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.”
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, allowing 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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