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Westmoreland residents advised to stay indoors; warming stations available

| Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, 11:48 p.m.
Steph Chambers | Tribune-Review
Jerry Fesh of New Stanton keeps warm on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, as he claims the only rocking chair in the dining room of the Jeannette Senior Center. Fesh said he frequents the center to 'hang out,' but the weather deterred many of his friends from visiting.
Sean Stipp | Tribune-Review
First Lt. Nathaniel Winters of the Greensburg Volunteer Fire Department Engine Company No. 6 salts the driveway in front of the station along West Otterman Street on Jan. 6, 2013. Winters and fellow firefighters are preparing back up generators and torpedo heaters in advance of the subzero temperatures.
Guy Wathen | Tribune-Review
Crossing guard Daylene Smoker is bundled against the cold while helping a student across North Maple Avenue near Greensburg Salem Middle School in Greensburg on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014.

As temperatures plunged on Monday, schools, offices and workers across the region canceled activities and prepared to battle the bone-chilling cold with warming stations, winterized equipment and extra personnel.

“If you don't have to go someplace in the bitter cold, stay home,” said Dan Stevens, spokesman for the Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.

The National Weather Service in Moon said temperatures are expected to bottom out at minus-12 degrees on Tuesday between 5 and 6 a.m. as the blast of frigid arctic air grips the region.

And then the wind chill is expected to take that down to somewhere between minus-25 to minus-35 degrees.

School districts canceled evening activities on Monday and closed on Tuesday. Westmoreland County Community College closed all eight of its education centers.

Westmoreland County opened several warming stations on Monday and has others on call should power outages leave residences without heat, Stevens said.

Mobile rehab units and Westmoreland Transit Agency buses will be on standby to go to accident scenes to provide warm recovery areas for police, firefighters and other emergency responders, Stevens said.

Fayette County Emergency Management Director Roy Shipley said 911 staffers were told to be prepared to stay overnight, if needed, to deal with weather-related emergencies.

“We'll be prepared here at the county level to assist, or if we have to bring in outside resources ... we'll be staffed to do that,” Shipley said.

The Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County readied equipment, moving some into its New Stanton garage and mixing additives with the diesel fuel in others so it does not gel, said Tom Ceraso, assistant manager.

Ceraso said the authority always has crews scheduled around the clock and has salt on hand to treat icy conditions that could develop if water mains leak or break.

West Penn Power spokesman Todd Meyers said the company is treating the cold temperatures like storm conditions, keeping workers on for 16-hour shifts, then letting them rest for eight hours.

“We have them standing by at service centers around the clock (so they can) very quickly work to restore power,” Meyers said.

Crews will wear cold-weather gear and keep trucks running while they're on jobs so they can warm up often. Crews will be doubled so workers can rotate in and out of the warmth more often, he said.

Some government offices, restaurants, trash collection and Meals on Wheels are closed or operating on reduced hours.

Westmoreland and Fayette county courts did not call prospective jurors to the courthouses for Tuesday, court administrators said.

Fayette jurors who were selected for the three criminal trials that started on Monday are still expected to report. “The only time we close the courthouse is if the governor declares an emergency,” said Paul Kuntz, Westmoreland court administrator. Individual judges and offices can determine their own schedules, he said.

The Westmoreland recorder of deeds and register of wills offices will close at 4 p.m. Tuesday, two hours early.

Allied Waste trash collection will be delayed by one day, according to alerts sent to several communities.

Carbone's Restaurant in Crabtree posted on Facebook that it would close on Tuesday. And Meals on Wheels and county-delivered meals were canceled.

“We felt with the weather being as cold as it's going to be, we wanted our drivers, our runners and kitchen people — they're all seniors, too — we wanted them to all be safe,” said Lois Weaver, coordinator of Tri-City Meals on Wheels, which delivers to the elderly and shut-ins in Greensburg, South Greensburg, Southwest Greensburg, Fort Allen, Harrison City, Jeannette and West Point.

Weaver said they provided an extra can of soup with Monday's deliveries and checked with each resident to be sure they would be OK without a delivery on Tuesday.

Throngs of people who knew they would be stuck inside combed the racks at the Family Video store on Main Street in Greensburg, renting stacks of DVDs and video games, said manager Khrystal Gresko.

Gresko said she had to call her evening employee in early to deal with nearly double the typical number of customers.

“The colder it gets, the busier we get,” Gresko said. “They come in more often and rent more items, too. Instead of a couple (items) for a night, they rent a whole stack.”

Kari Andren is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-850-2856 or kandren@tribweb.com.

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