McKeesport readies for Arctic blast with shelters, shutdowns
By Patrick Cloonan
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2014, 3:46 a.m.
Civic officials and medical experts are taking action as sub-zero temperatures envelop the Mon-Yough area.
Clairton Mayor Richard Lattanzi declared a state of emergency Monday and opened the municipal building for use as a warming center.
“We have a large elderly population that we are concerned about in addition to any other residents who may need emergency shelter,” Deputy Mayor Kathy Tachoir said. “We are doing our best to help.”
City officials said Clairton City School District is ready to handle overflow crowds by opening the Education Center auditorium.
Virtually all Mon-Yough schools canceled classes for Tuesday.
In McKeesport, Mayor Michael Cherepko established an emergency warming center at the Palisades.
“The center will remain open indefinitely throughout this situation,” Cherepko said. “If you encounter an emergency in which you lose heat, please contact Allegheny County Emergency Services at 211 to make arrangements.”
Common Pleas President Judge Jeffrey Manning closed all county and magisterial district courts on Tuesday.
First responders and emergency room personnel said they are ready for cases of frostbite or hypothermia.
“EMS crews have their own insulated blankets, warm (intravenous) fluids and warm humidified oxygen,” said Dr. Kip Jenifer. an emergency physician at Jefferson Hospital. “We have heating blankets that circulate a warm flow of air around patients.”
At UPMC McKeesport, emergency room director Dr. Rani Kumar braced for an influx of patients.
“We do see patients who don't have a shelter or did not realize that they needed help,” Kumar said. “It is not infrequent.”
Kumar said hypothermia could be exacerbated by fatigue, low body mass, medications or alcohol. She said alcohol affects the blood circulation and reduces the body temperature.
Jenifer said an ideal room temperature in homes is 70-72 degrees.
“When you start getting below 65, your body temperature will start to drop as well,” he said.
County Health Department director Dr. Karen Hacker stressed the need to wear multiple layers of clothing and cover all exposed body parts when going outside.
Hacker said frostbite can occur within 30 minutes if the wind chill reading is minus-19 degrees, 10 minutes at minus-33 and five minutes if it dips to minus-48.
Frostbite includes loss of feeling and white or pale appearance in the extremities — fingers, toes, ear lobes and the tip of the nose.
“If you are exposed to temperatures at that extreme without proper protection, it could be a matter of 5-10 minutes before some sort of hypothermia sets in,” Jenifer said.
Signs of hypothermia include shivering, rapid heartbeat and breathing, and falling body temperature.
“A couple degrees is all it takes,” Jenifer said. “You might start to feel sleepy, clumsy or confused. The skin on your hands and feet might start to turn pale or blue.”
Eventually, the shivering stops, breathing slows down and so does the heartbeat.
“Your reflexes are starting to get slower,” Jenifer said. “Your muscles will become tight. It will be hard to move. You may actually lose consciousness.”
Warming centers have been opened in Elizabeth, Homestead, Munhall and elsewhere in the county.
In Munhall, the Bureau of Fire opened stations as county warming centers in the borough building, along Whitaker Way, at Thirteenth Avenue and Martha Street, and in Homestead Park at Main Street and E. Eugene Avenue.
Elizabeth borough officials opened the municipal building at 206 S. Third St. as a warming center on Monday and planned to do so Tuesday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.
In Homestead, the Steel Valley Salvation Army Worship & Service Center was opened as a warming center and will operate on Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
In West Mifflin, the county is operating a center until Wednesday at 9 a.m. at the municipal building, 3000 Lebanon Church Road. Warming center locations may be added, county officials said late Monday.
In Westmoreland County, North Huntingdon Township police said a warming center was set up at the Circleville Volunteer Fire Department hall, 129 Robbins Station Road.
East McKeesport emergency management coordinator Stacy Mays said there were no plans to open a shelter unless a power failure occurs. East McKeesport is one of several area communities that can utilize Red Cross shelters.
McKeesport Housing Authority executive director Stephen Bucklew said the Senator James R. Brewster Community Center is a designated shelter should the city declare a state of emergency.
“It has a backup generator that can provide heat in these kinds of conditions, even if the power goes out,” Bucklew said. “The mayor's office would designate when it is needed to be opened.”
Allegheny County spokeswoman Amie Downs recommended remaining at home.
“If the lack of heat is due to a power outage, they should contact the utility company to let them know about the outage and, depending on how long it is expected to return service, contact 211 then if they need to go somewhere that is heated,” Downs said.
Allegheny County's Area Agency on Aging distributed 1,250 Snowy Weather Boxes to at-risk adults. They included toilet paper, non-skid slipper socks, hand sanitizer, a flashlight and batteries, peanut butter, crackers, tuna, fruit juice, bottled water, and other shelf-stable food and drinks.
The snow that heralded the change from Sunday's 50-degree conditions triggered scattered power outages in Duquesne Light and West Penn Power service areas.
At one point, 1,100 Duquesne Light customers were in the dark but most had power back by mid-afternoon on Monday.
“The company is not expecting any widespread issues from the subzero temperatures,” Duquesne Light spokesman Joey Vallarian said.
Cherepko said that McKeesport residents experiencing power outages can call Duquesne Light at 412-393-7000.
Daily News Staff Writer Jennifer R. Vertullo contributed. Patrick Cloonan is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-664-9161 ext. 1967, or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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