By MARK LEVY and MARYCLAIRE DALE
PHILADELPHIA — Pennsylvanians crowded stores to buy last-minute supplies ahead of the unprecedented freak storm expected to arrive in the state late Sunday, while utility crews and National Guard troops prepared to respond to possible power outages and floods.
The governor and mayor of Philadelphia both declared states of emergency, and the University of Pennsylvania and Villanova University canceled classes for Monday and Tuesday. Even Halloween parades were canceled.
The storm was expected to result from Hurricane Sandy coming ashore late Monday or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, and colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. Forecasters warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.
In Philadelphia and surrounding communities, the American Red Cross opened evacuation centers, and Philadelphia residents bought water, food and other supplies Sunday to ride out the storm.
At The Fresh Grocer in west Philadelphia, Tayna Lindsey, 38, was among those stocking up. She bought nearly $200 worth of food, including a turkey, and planned to cook as long as her power was on.
"If my kids are home," she said, "they need to eat. I have a big family."
She intended to prepare plenty of food for her husband, four children, a grandchild, other relatives and neighbors and to take some with her to work as a medical assistant at the University of Pennsylvania hospital.
Wade Green, 24, of Philadelphia was leaving the store with a case of water and other supplies. But the new city sanitation employee said he has raingear ready and has been told that he might be working during the storm.
"I already know I'm going to be in the middle of it, so I'll be preparing for it," he said. "Prepare for the worst, hope for the best."
Peco Energy, the commonwealth's largest electric and gas utility, said Sunday it has 300 electric line crews and 150 tree-trimming crews from as far away as Illinois and Mississippi ready to go.
"This is definitely what we call an all-hands-on-deck effort," Peco spokeswoman Karen Muldoon Geus said.
Muldoon Geus said she expects some customers to be without electricity for multiple days, and shutting down power to certain areas is likely in areas with heavy flooding.
The utility will also have trailers with response crews in flood-prone areas to quickly turn off gas service where necessary.
The Pennsylvania National Guard has told about 16,000 members to be ready to deploy for a storm response if activated. In addition, the 56th Stryker Brigade combat team ended training a day early at Fort Indiantown Gap in suburban Harrisburg to return to its base at Horsham Air Guard Station in suburban Philadelphia to prepare, said spokesman Maj. Edward Shank.
The combat team alone has several dozen Stryker vehicles and several dozen heavy trucks that can respond, he said.
Communities elsewhere in Pennsylvania postponed or canceled their Halloween parades with the approach of the storm.
Parades scheduled in Allentown and Bethlehem on Sunday were postponed until Nov. 4, the Morning Call newspaper reported.
In Franklin County in central Pennsylvania, police said the 70th annual Mercersburg Halloween parade scheduled for Monday night was canceled. It was only the second time in 70 years that the parade was canceled, the Herald-Mail of Hagerstown, Md., reported.