The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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October 31, 2012

Post-Sandy, Pa. looks to plug in, get back to work

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvanians made it through two days of rain and wind from Sandy on Tuesday with hopes of connecting back to the electrical grid, plans to finish cleaning up leaves and limbs and the prospect of returning to jobs or the classroom.

The storm that did so much damage along the coast before it drenched Pennsylvania was blamed for seven deaths in the state. It was more than a mild inconvenience for the million-plus who lost power and the countless others whose homes were damaged by blowing rain and falling trees, but it was not the disaster for the state that some had feared.

Gov. Tom Corbett said late Tuesday there were no reports of major flooding as the center of the weather system drifted west and its winds diminished to 10 mph or so.

"We are breathing somewhat of a sigh of relief," he said at an evening news conference at the headquarters of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency outside Harrisburg. "I'll breathe a better sigh of relief when we get everybody back on line with electricity."

Power outages were the storm's most damaging byproduct, but the number of customers in the dark continued to fall to about 850,000 by Wednesday morning. Officials were reluctant to predict when most people would see service restored, saying the extent of the damage was still being surveyed.

Corbett said teams of state troopers and Guardsmen, and a couple of helicopters, would be deployed Wednesday to eyeball conditions in remote areas. A dollar estimate remained days away, at least.

The winds ripped leaves from trees, carpeting the ground with a colorful blanket and adding to slick conditions and creating work for homeowners.

Bill Crouch spent his Tuesday morning cleaning up fallen tree limbs from around his house and shed in Levittown, where a neighbor's tree was uprooted during the storm but did not cause any property damage.

Crouch had been without power since Monday evening. His biggest challenges were finding ice to keep his food from spoiling and batteries to keep his hand-held radio and flashlights working.

"We've got plenty of food, but we don't know how long this is going to last," he said. "That's the dilemma right here."

Measured by the number of outages it caused, Sandy was a historic storm, ranking in the top three statewide.

Tammy Bertel and her husband lost power at their Harleysville home on Monday night, their first extended outage since moving into their house 15 years ago. But she took it in stride, calling it a minor inconvenience.

"We are perfectly fine. If we have to, we'll go stay in a hotel or with friends," Bertel said. "I've camped in the middle of a rainstorm. I'm not that high maintenance to begin with. It's not that big of a deal."

After two days off, state government workers were expected back on the job Wednesday.

Driving remained tricky in spots, as hundreds of local roads and bridges in eastern Pennsylvania were left impassable because of downed trees and power lines or flooding.

Corbett said the state was hearing reports that Amtrak and Philadelphia's mass transit system was slowly going back on line, a hopeful sign for travelers and commuters after two days of frustration.

In Pittsburgh, Susan Adamson, 47, was trying to get back to New York City and her job at a sports medicine clinic. She had flown to Pittsburgh on Friday to visit a friend and attend a Bruce Springsteen concert.

"I just feel a little bit powerless at this moment because I'm used to taking things into my own hands, but in this instance I can't," she said.

The seven storm-attributed deaths included an elderly Lancaster County man who fell from a tree he was trimming in advance of the approaching storm and a teen who struck a fallen tree while riding an ATV in Northampton County.

In eastern Pennsylvania, a 66-year-old man died of carbon monoxide poisoning and several other people were taken to a hospital after being overcome by fumes from a generator running in a garage because they had no electric power, and a 90-year-old suburban Philadelphia woman was found dead of apparent carbon monoxide poisoning from a generator turned on when the storm cut power to her home.

An 8-year-old boy died when a tree limb fell on him in Franklin Township, north of Montrose. In Berks County, a 62-year-old man died after a tree fell on top of a house in Pike Township, near Boyertown. And in Somerset County, a woman died when the car in which she was a passenger skidded off a snowy, slushy roadway and overturned into a pond.

In south-central Pennsylvania, firefighters rescued a York County woman Monday night after she jumped into a raging creek to "save" some wild ducks. Justina Laniewski, 41, was plucked from neck-high waters and then charged with risking a catastrophe and public drunkenness, among other offenses.

Despite Sandy's huge size and soaking rains, landlocked Pennsylvania managed to avoid the kind of widespread, catastrophic flooding that marked Hurricane Irene in August 2011 and Tropical Storm Lee in September 2011. It also fared far better than New York and New Jersey.

The state announced it had set up "megashelters" at West Chester and East Stroudsburg universities to house up to 1,800 evacuees from those neighboring states, but a few hours later learned they would not be needed. Pennsylvania also was sending help to its coastal neighbors, including 35 ambulances and a search-and-rescue unit specializing in collapsed buildings.

"I'm certainly glad I'm not Gov. (Chris) Christie or Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo right now, with what they're facing," Corbett said.

Along with widespread power outages, Sandy will be remembered in Pennsylvania for its howling, middle-of-the-night winds. Anything that wasn't tied down or stowed was at risk of becoming airborne. Wind gusts reached 81 mph in Allentown and 76 mph in Bensalem, outside Philadelphia, according to the National Weather Service.


Associated Press writers Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia, Peter Jackson and Marc Levy and Mark Scolforo in Harrisburg, Joe Mandak in Pittsburgh and Michael Rubinkam contributed to this report.


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