Crews rescue 30 in Westmoreland County, but governor says storm could have been worse
By Jennifer Reeger, Margaret Harding and Brad Bumsted
Published: Tuesday, October 30, 2012, 7:12 a.m.
Updated: Wednesday, October 31, 2012
Crews rescued about 30 people from homes and roads around Ligonier and Latrobe overnight as rain from the remnants of Hurricane Sandy continued to fall over Western Pennsylvania.
State and local leaders said Tuesday the region and most of Pennsylvania “dodged a bullet” compared to surrounding states, with few areas of widespread damage, although about 1.3 million customers were without power and several people died from falling trees and limbs.
“For Pennsylvania it was probably not as bad as it could have been,” Gov. Tom Corbett said.
More than 600 people are in shelters that have a capacity for 31,000.
With the storm moving north and west in the center of the state, high wind and more power outages are still a danger, Corbett said.
Corbett will take part in a conference call later Tuesday morning with Mid-Atlantic governors and President Obama. Federal aid is one of the issues.
There's still concern about rising rivers in the aftermath of the flood, officials said. “We will be watching the river stages,” Corbett said.
Flooding occurred in some parts of South and Southeastern Pennsylvania, but Corbett said it was not as severe in this state as tropical storm Lee and Irene last year.
Public Utility Commission figures show power outages among 587,000 PECO customers, 403,000 PP&L, 254,000 First Energy, and others including 4,5000 customers of West Penn Power.
Crews evacuated people in Ligonier as the floodwater rose. Crews pulled some people from their homes in the eastern part of Westmoreland County, most in the Ligonier and Latrobe areas. But others were rescued from vehicles they drove into water-covered roads.
“You have to exercise common sense,” said Dan Stevens, spokesman for Westmoreland County Emergency Management. “If a sign says ‘Road Closed' ... you shouldn't go around the sign.”
In the Laurel Highlands, slushy, wet snow fell during the night. People were prepared for worse. They filled bathtubs and buckets with well water.
Lanny Ulery, 70, of Donegal said he feels fortunate the storm didn't hit the area as hard as it did the New Jersey coast.
“All we did was prepare for the forecast - get the flashlights, drew water,” he said. “The weather's bad enough, but when you turn on the news and you see those people there, you feel for them.”
Tom Kalp, 70, was up four or five times overnight to check on the snowfall. At 7 a.m., he opened his restaurant, J&T's, as usual.
“If I wanted sunshine, I'd go to Florida,” he said.
Photos posted on Seven Springs Mountain Resort's website look like mid-winter scenes of snow-coated slopes, deck chairs and trees. Winter sports fans chattered on social media sites, hoping the resort might open for a day of skiing.
But the 13 inches of snow that fell is not “skiable,” resort spokeswoman Anna Weltz said.
“It's very wet. The first part of the storm was all rain and very heavy. The ground is very soggy,” Weltz said. “It's heavy, wet and sloppy, what we refer to as good ‘snowman' snow. It's not good for skiing.”
The Laurel Highlands also registered some snowfall related to the massive storm system that stretched from New York and New Jersey across Maryland and Pennsylvania and into Ohio.
Pittsburgh had no major incidents during the high wind and rain of post-Hurricane Sandy, Mayor Luke Ravenstahl said. Still, non-emergency city workers got the day off and City Hall is closed.
In the suburbs, there were reports of downed trees and flooded basements. Coal Hollow Road in Penn Hills is closed because of debris on the roadway between Verona Road and Frankstown Road, PennDOT spokesman Jim Struzzi said.
He also said Route 885 closed between Irwin Run Road in West Mifflin Borough and Mifflin Road in Pittsburgh because of downed power lines.
Ravenstahl reported about 70 East Hills residents and 350 homes and businesses in Allegheny and Beaver counties are without power.
“City workers did a great job responding swiftly over night to downed trees and flash flooding,” Ravenstahl said. “While the worst of the storm appears to be over, residents must remain cautious as the risk of flash flooding in some areas still remains.”
Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said no streams topped their banks. He said White House officials called the county to check on people.
West Penn Power reported just over 2,000 outages in Allegheny County.
At Point State Park, the rivers are at 18 feet, flooding the Mon Wharf parking lot, according meteorologist Lee Hendricks of the National Weather Service. They are expected to crest there at 1 a.m. at 21.3 feet; flood stage is 25 feet.
Officials are monitoring the Monongahela River near Charleroi and Elizabeth. The river is expected to crest at 20 feet — flood level — in Elizabeth, and at 28 feet in Charleroi, which also is flood stage.
In Connellsville, the Youghiogheny River is at 10.4 feet; flood stage is 12 feet, Hendricks said. The river is expected to crest there at 13 feet later Tuesday or early Wednesday.
A dock at McKees Point Marina in McKeesport broke loose from its moorings Tuesday morning and threatens to take out several others, a marina employee said.
Candie Deemer, 30, a cook at the marina's cafe, said the dock came loose about 10 a.m. and snapped in two. One piece of the marina's broken D Dock became wedged beneath the neighboring C Dock and the other piece crashed into C Dock and was pushing against it about noon.
Pressure applied by the broken dock pieces, along with strong currents on the storm-swollen Youghiogheny River and large pieces of debris being carried downstream, threatened to break C Dock loose, Deemer said. Two other docks are directly behind it, including one with a pontoon boat attached, she said.
Each dock is large enough to hold about 17 boats. The pontoon was the only boat that remained at the marina, as other boat owners removed their vessels in anticipation of the storm, Deemer said.
“The current is so strong, we can't even step on the docks to do anything. We're just watching and waiting to see if (the other docks) break loose,” Deemer said.
Nearly 30 Westmoreland County roads were closed because of flooding from the remnants of the storm.
But the high wind anticipated never really materialized, sparing most from predicted power outages.
“All in all we're doing real well. We're very fortunate,” Stevens said. “We just hope the rest of the day stays the same.”
The closed roads are scattered throughout the county in low-lying areas around streams and creeks, Stevens said.
“We haven't seen the water recede, in fact, we've seen it rise some more,” he said.
The Loyalhanna Creek is particularly turbulent.
“The Loyalhanna is violent to say the least,” Stevens said. “It's churning pretty good. I've seen it only a couple of times like this.”
Stevens said flooding of roads and homes provided the most difficulty for emergency officials.
AROUND THE REGION
Corbett said Pennsylvania is sending 35 ambulances and an oversized “mass casualty” bus to help New Jersey victims. The bus can be used to bring out large numbers of evacuees, Corbett said. The state also is designating West Chester and East Stroudsburg universities as shelters for storm victims from New Jersey and New York.
Pennsylvania's search and rescue team of 78 members is going to New Jersey, said PEMA director Glenn Cannon.
About 2,000 Pennsylvania National Guard members have been deployed — roughly 1,200 from Harrisburg to Philadelphia, said Gen. Wesley Craig. Their missions include transporting cots and food and piling up sandbags to prevent flooding.
Corbett participated in a conference call with other governors from North Carolina to New England. President Obama was concerned with the power outrages and offered direct access to the White house for Pennsylvania's needs.
It's premature to assess the financial impact from storm damage in Pennsylvania, Corbett said. The governor also said he received a call from GOP candidate Mitt Romney inquiring about the storm's impact on the state.
In Fayette County, more than 4,000 people were without power, according to West Penn.
A Fayette 911 dispatcher said the storm resulted in numerous calls for flooded basements. The dispatcher said there were also a number of vehicle accidents this morning, possibly because of water on the roads.
One road closure was reported in Fayette County — Dinner Bell Road in Henry Clay Township.
Pittsburgh International Airport recorded 1.82 inches of rain over 24 hours and Allegheny County Airport in West Mifflin recorded 2.09 inches, Hendricks said.
Tuesday should be rainy with temperatures in the mid-40s. Winds are expected to be 15 to 20 mph, gusting to 30 mph. Tuesday night will be rainy and in the upper 30s, with winds dying down to 5 to 10 mph.
Stan Greygor, 51, of Millvale took the day off work, moved all his valuables out of his basement and parked his truck on higher ground in preparation.
“I think we're out of harm's way,” Greygor said. “The creek isn't half of what I thought it would be. I've had no problems at all. It's another rainstorm.”
Greygor was walking his dog Tuesday to check out Girty's Run, which was about a foot higher than it was when he checked it out Monday.
“It's nothing I expected,” Greygor said.
Overnight, swift-water rescue crews went to Streets Run Road near Baldwin for water on the roadway, and flooding at Routes 51 and 88. The roads remain open.
Public works crews received calls for trees blocking roadways in several neighborhoods, including along the East Busway in Bloomfield, areas near Saw Mill Run Boulevard at Edgebrook Street, McArdle Roadway and areas in Mt. Washington, Rutherford Street in Beechview, and Arlington Avenue in Allentown. All trees were removed and the roadways reopened.
The storm system that made landfall in New Jersey on Monday evening with 80 mph sustained winds killed at least 16 people in seven states, cut power to more than 7.4 million homes and businesses from the Carolinas to Ohio, caused scares at two nuclear power plants and stopped the presidential campaign cold.
The storm reached well into the Midwest: Chicago officials warned residents to stay away from the Lake Michigan shore as the city prepares for winds of up to 60 mph and waves exceeding 24 feet well into Wednesday.
Major interstates around Philadelphia reopened Tuesday morning. Additional road closures were likely in the day ahead, as the center of the storm was forecast to hit Harrisburg before turning north Tuesday toward State College.
Police say high wind caused the partial collapse of four brick buildings in Altoona, including an apartment building and a furniture store.
A woman died when the vehicle she was riding in slid on slush-covered Kingwood Road in Upper Turkeyfoot Township, Somerset County, and plunged into a farm pond about 9:30 p.m. Monday. The driver of the vehicle, identified as a 51-year-old woman from Confluence, was able to free herself but unable to save the passenger, police said.
An Susquehanna County boy, 8, died when a tree limb fell on him in Franklin Township, just north of Montrose. In Berks County, a 62-year-old man died after a tree fell on his house in Pike Township near Boyertown. And a man trimming a tree in preparation for the storm fell and died Sunday in Rapho Township, Lancaster County.
An infant was slightly injured when a tree fell on a house in Upper Darby in Delaware County on Monday.
Staff writers Bobby Kerlik, Amanda Dolasinski, Tom Fontaine and Mary Pickels and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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