Storm disrupts travel, power, water for many in Western Pennsylvania
By Craig Smith
Published: Sunday, Feb. 7, 2010
Nearly 2 feet of snow crippled most forms of transportation across Western Pennsylvania and cut power to tens of thousands of homes, leaving people cold, stranded or even dry.
The worst snowstorm since 1993 took Pittsburgh International Airport, Port Authority of Allegheny County, sections of the Turnpike, stretches of the parkways, Jefferson Regional Medical Center and some Pennsylvania American Water pumps out of service for much of Saturday.
With 13,098 calls to the Allegheny County 911 center by 2 p.m. -- three times more than usual -- authorities said recovery would be slow in spots.
"People need to be patient," said Joanna Doven, spokeswoman to Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl. "We still have a lot of work to do."
The county Medical Examiner's Office reported no deaths from the storm. But authorities said they worried about getting power and heat to homes.
Pennsylvania American Water warned customers not to use water because of low tank levels caused by the powerless pumps. When faucets start running again, the state Department of Environmental Protection said people should boil the water first.
Problems lingered on the Turnpike until after 7 last night. Pittsburgh International Airport restored only limited service at 8:30 with one runway for takeoffs and landings.
"We had hoped we were going to get some areas open by noon, but it turned out to be acres of concrete that still needed to be cleared," spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said.
Lyle Anthony and Mike Geer, both 27 and from Warren, Pa., were among those stranded. They had planned since September to see the German rock band Rammstein perform in Mannheim, Germany.
"We have to be in Frankfurt by noon Monday," Anthony said as he held a cell phone up to one ear while waiting on hold with Travelocity. "I don't know if that's going to happen."
Port Authority shut down all bus and T service except a line on the East Busway between Swissvale and Penn Station.
While riders have seen bus service suspended because of bad weather, "it's exceptional to have to close down the entire system," authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said. He could not provide an estimate of how many people were impacted by the shutdown.
By 6 p.m., Duquesne Light said 29,500 people remained without electricity. That was down from a high of 57,000 earlier in the day. Allegheny Power had more than 36,000 customers without power last night.
Duquesne Light crews had to deal with 780 cases of downed lines, 167 cases of tree limbs on lines, and 42 damaged poles, spokesman Joe Vallarian said.
In Verona, the power outage extended from Allegheny River Boulevard to the Allegheny River. That caused the evacuation of a senior center and numerous homes.
About 50 people were at the warming center in the Verona fire hall, fire Capt. Mark McClelland said.
"We have power and if it goes out we have a generator," McClelland said.
About 100 people were planning to spend the night in the Tenth Street Elementary School in Oakmont, borough emergency management coordinator Theresa Kreegan said.
"We fed about 50 (people) supper and most of them went to their homes to retrieve blankets and sleeping bags," Kreegan said. "With temperatures dropping to about 8 degrees, we expect many more will come in."
The Red Cross planned on providing tea and coffee throughout the night and breakfast today.
Yesterday morning, more than 125,000 Allegheny Power customers in the region were without power -- 27,000 of them in Westmoreland County and 19,000 in Fayette County.
By the evening, about 15,500 Westmoreland County residents remained without power service but Fayette County's numbers had remained relatively the same.
Among the area hardest hit in Westmoreland were the Greensburg, Hempfield, Irwin, North Huntingdon, Export, Jacobs Creek, Mt. Pleasant and West Newton areas.
When power would be restored was a question not easily answered because of the widespread nature of the damage.
"This storm has brought down a lot of trees and a lot of power lines," said Allegheny Power spokesman Dave Neurohr. "Our crews have their work cut out for them."
Among those without power was Westmoreland Manor, where backup generators were being used to serve the 400 residents of the nursing home, said Sandy Smythe, spokeswoman for Westmoreland County Emergency Management.
Fire departments were brining additional generators to help as the night wore on without power, Smythe said.
"(Allegheny Power) put them on a priority list," Smythe said. "We told them we have 400 residents down there. That's a lot of people down there."
Power outages at pump stations caused double-barrelled trouble for about 35,000 customers of the Municipal Authority of Westmoreland County, cutting off their water service. In Fayette County, the water treatment plant that serves the Albert Gallatin area lost power affecting 3,000 customers.
The state Department of Environmental Protection said residents who experience a disruption in their water service should boil water for one minute before consuming it. Any widespread service interruption will cause a loss of pressure in water lines, which could result in bacteria entering the lines
Emergency officials set up warming centers throughout Westmoreland and Fayette to give people without electricity a place to sit, sleep or get a bite to eat yesterday and into the night.
In addition to the state and five local counties, 33 municipalities in Allegheny County declared emergencies.
Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services Bob Full said the county's state of emergency could remain in effect for a week. He said declaring the emergency allows officials to cut through red tape by suspending certain purchasing regulations to expedite getting what is needed to deal with the snow.
The county jail and Shuman Juvenile Detention Center suspended visits. Pittsburgh police asked people to call 911 only in cases of emergencies that cannot wait for a report later.
Even facilities catering to winter activities were closed, including the Boyce Park ski and tubing area and the ice skating rinks at North Park and South Park.
The Meadows Racetrack & Casino and the Rivers Casino closed because of the storm. The Meadows said it planned to reopen at 9 a.m. today.
This weekend's storm ranks fourth on the list of all-time big snow events in Pittsburgh.
The Top 10 snowstorms, according to the National Weather Service:
• Nov. 24-26, 1950: 27.4 inches
• Dec. 16-18, 1890: 25.9 inches
• March 12-14, 1993: 25.3 inches
• Feb. 5-6, 2010: 21.1 inches
• Jan. 8-9, 1886: 18.5 inches
• Jan. 8-9, 1884: 18 inches
• Feb. 18-21, 1927: 17.8 inches
• March 3, 1942: 16.3 inches
• Feb. 13-14, 1940: 16.3 inches
• Jan. 12-13, 1964: 15.6 inches
Staff writers Jeremy Boren, Jason Cato and Tom Fontaine contributed to this report.
Heroes of the storm
Western Pennsylvanians showed their heart after nearly 2 feet of snow fell this weekend. They tended to elderly neighbors, shoveled out cars, provided food and shelter and helped friends and strangers alike in countless ways.
The Tribune-Review wants to spotlight these heroes of the storm.
If you know of someone who made a special effort to help, please share the story. E-mail your story to email@example.com or send a fax to 412-320-7965. Include a description of what the hero did along with your name, address and phone number.
Nominations will be used for future reports, in print or online.
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