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Pennsylvania

Agencies, utilities prep for storm response

| Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018, 6:15 p.m.
This photo provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely dangerous major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days. (NASA via AP)
This photo provided by NASA shows Hurricane Florence from the International Space Station on Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, as it threatens the U.S. East Coast. Forecasters said Florence could become an extremely dangerous major hurricane sometime Monday and remain that way for days. (NASA via AP)

As members of the Pennsylvania National Guard headed to South Carolina Thursday, to join local volunteers and first responders already on the ground, disaster relief agencies and utilities here monitored the progress of Hurricane Florence and prepared to meet calls for aid that are expected to roll in from a disaster zone that could cover much of the Carolinas and Virginia.

West Penn Power’s parent corporation, First Energy employs three full time meteorologists who have been monitoring the storm’s progress around the clock, said company spokesman Todd Meyers. With utilities spread across parts of five states, they have a lot of ground to cover.

The company is part of a network of utilities that answer calls for help across the country when disaster strikes. Getting the lights back on after a major storm can require pulling in convoys of utility trucks and thousands of linemen from across the country. First Energy was on the receiving end of that network when a storm ravished its New Jersey power company six yaers ago.

“During Hurricane Sandy—the Oct. 29, 2012 super storm that ravished the coast of New Jersey and sent a storm surge into New York City— they were coming from Hawaii on planes to help. It took months and months and months. We’d rotate people in and out,” Meyers said.

Fearing that the storm could veer into its service area, West Penn wasn’t part of the initiate wave of 7,000 or so utility workers that traveled south ahead of Hurricane Florence. But it may well be part of the second wave.

“Later in the weekend or early next week more information will become available about where crews are needed to make repairs and/or rebuild power lines, and hopefully dangerous conditions will have subsided enough to access damaged areas. At that point we should know more about any plans to send West Penn Power or other FirstEnergy crews down south as part of a massive second-wave response,” Meyers said.

If that’s the case, they may run into local volunteers and National Guard members who made up part of the first wave response.

Gov. Tom Wolf said more than 25 Pennsylvania National Guard members and six Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission rescue technicians, along with two UH-60 Black Hawks and two CH-47 Chinook helicopters, left Thursday morning for Columbia, SC to assist with a response to Hurricane Florence.

They were part of a group of thousands of National Guard members and first responders from around the nation tasked to preposition assets and supplies for hurricane response and recovery.

Personnel from Medic One in Murrysville and Fayette EMS Thursday traveled to a region near the border of North and South Carolina Thursday morning as part of the national EMS disaster response team.

American Red Cross Greater Pennsylvania Region spokesman Dan Tobin said the his agency already had 23 volunteers including one medical specialist stationed throughout the three-state storm area, assisting with shelters and logistics.

“As the storm hits and we see what the needs are we have more volunteers on call to go if they’re needed,” Tobin said.

Meanwhile, Brothers Brother Foundation , a Pittsburgh-based international charity, began raising funds to partner with Gleaning for the World, a Virginia based relief organizations and Brethren Disaster Ministries, of Maryland, for disaster relief.

Brothers Brother President Luke L. Hingson said 100 percent of all contributions to the Pittsburgh- based organization will go directly to hurricane disaster relief. He said the two organizations his group is partnering with are working with local communities in the anticipated disaster area to identify unmet needs and make connections for the Pittsburgh organization to support the recovery.

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