Worst of storm expected in Western Pennsylvania overnight


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Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy made landfall on the coast of southern New Jersey just after 8 p.m., raking the shoreline with winds in excess of 85 miles per hour and bringing driving rain and gusting wind to communities as far inland as southwestern Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio.

The storm lost hurricane status just after 7 p.m. as it neared landfall on the New Jersey and Delaware coasts, but forecasters and emergency response officials warn it continues to be dangerous. As Sandy moves inland, local officials are asking area residents to get home and stay there until the storm passes.

"The roads might look good but then a gust of wind comes up and it's blowing branches around and it could make for dangerous driving," said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. "If you can stay home tonight, stay home tonight."

The National Weather Service now predicts the storm to peak between 10 p.m. tonight and 4 a.m. tomorrow; sustained winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour, with gusts of 60 to 70 miles per hour, are expected, he said. Those winds have great potential to damage trees, down power lines, and potentially block or damage roads and bridges, Mr. Fitzgerald said.

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Area residents should plan to have enough food, water, medicine and other essential supplies on hand to last for at least 72 hours in case of power outages or road closures, Mr. Fitzgerald said. They also should charge their cell phones -- or set up a battery-powered radio -- to continue receiving weather updates and news about closures and emergencies even during any power outages.

Strong winds and rain had knocked out the power for about 650 Duquesne Light customers as of 10:15 p.m., spokesman Brian Knavish wrote in a news release. The company was still assessing storm damage and did not yet have an estimated time for restoring service.

About 5,200 West Penn Power customers were without power as of 10:30 p.m., spokesman Mark Nitowski said. About half of those customers were in Allegheny County, including nearly 1,700 in North Fayette. About 1,200 were in Westmoreland County. Because the storm is still rolling through the area, it's too early to predict when the power might be restored, Mr. Nitowski said.

Residents can help ease flash flooding expected after Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy dumps 2 to 4 inches of rain on the area by clearing catch basins near their homes if it is safe to do so, said Allegheny County Chief of Emergency Services Alvin Henderson, Jr. Flooding is often seen in communities such as Millvale, Etna, West Elizabeth, Carnegie and parts of the South Hills, but masses of leaves in the streets create their own problem when they clog catch basins, he said.

"Due to the situation with the leaves, everyone has to be aware that flash flooding could occur anywhere, at any moment," Mr. Henderson said.

The National Weather Service has issued a flood warning for urban areas and small streams in Allegheny County until 11:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Streets Run Road in Baldwin is closed near Chapon's Greenhouse, a rock slide happened on the Tri-Boro Expressway in North Versailles and residents in Pitcairn, Wall and Fayette County are reporting residential basement flooding, officials are reporting.

Allegheny County officials say residents are also reporting flooding in homes in Stowe and Fawn. A traffic light fell down near the intersection of Race Street and Pennwood Avenue in Edgewood and trees have fallen throughout the county, several blocking roads in Baldwin.

Allegheny County officials are reporting at Ohio River Boulevard in Anvala is completely blocked after a car came trapped between trees. Glass Run Road in Pittsburgh is also closed, and construction signs are blocking traffic near Bedford Avenue and Washington Plaza in the city.

Police have closed Streets Run Road between Brentwood Road and Chapon's Greenhouse in Baldwin and Clinton Avenue near Rose Court in North Fayette.

Indiana County Emergency Operations is reporting that firefighters from Homer City and Coal Run have been sent out to help clean up flooding along McIntyre Road in Young, East Elm St. in Homer Center and Wayne and Lislie streets in Center.

Deputy public information officer Sandy Smythe said county officials are concerned that more damage could come overnight, when heavy rains continue to pound on waterlogged grassy areas. No storm-related injuries had been reported as of 9:30 p.m., she said.

Members of Pittsburgh's swiftwater rescue team are also reporting that creeks are beginning to rise near Route 51 and Route 88.

Fayette County officials are reporting that some people are seeing the first snowfall of the season.

Snow is accumulating in the ridges of Westmoreland and Fayette counties, and has contributed to at least 12 vehicles becoming stranded on I-68 in Preston County, West Virginia, according to the National Weather Service in Moon. Reedsville, a town near the interstate, has seen eight inches of snow so far while about one inch has accumulated in Derry and on Laurel Mountain in Westmoreland County, according to weather service meteorologist Charlie Woodrum.

Local Red Cross workers have opened a shelter at Shaler Middle School, 1800 Mt. Royal Boulevard, in Shaler. Workers there are asking people seeking shelter to remember to bring prescription medications, identification and important papers, toiletries, extra clothes, water or nonperishable foods, blankets, billows, sleeping bags and, if needed, baby food and diapers.

People who are interested in volunteering for storm clean-up efforts can call the Red Cross' volunteer management team at 412-263-3182.

With tropical-force winds creating dangerous traveling conditions in the Philadelphia area, Gov. Tom Corbett is closing the full length of Interstates 95 and 676; I-476 (non-toll portion); I-76 from the turnpike to Passyunk Avenue and the U.S. Route 1 Extension in Philadelphia to all traffic except emergency vehicles from 7 p.m. through 2 a.m.

The Governor reiterated that motorists should not travel during the storm to ensure their safety and the safety of emergency responders who may be assisting in storm operations.

Motorists can check road conditions on more than 2,900 miles of state roads by calling 5-1-1 or visiting www.511PA.com. Detailed travel information for the Pennsylvania Turnpike is also available at 1-866-976-8747.

Meteorologists with the National Weather Service said the storm is moving in faster than expected, and that a gust of 40 miles per hour was reported at the Pittsburgh International Airport at about 5:30 p.m.

"The winds are increasing as we speak," said meteorologist Rich Kane.

Pennsylvania utility companies are reporting that more than 30,000 people are already without power around the state, in the first wave of what are expected to be an increasing number of outages because of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy.

At 3:15 p.m. Monday PECO was reporting over 15,000 customers without power, mostly in the Philadelphia area. First Energy reports more than 8,000 and PPL about 8,000, including some in the Harrisburg area.

The utilities have lined up extra repair crews, but they still say some people could be without power for days.

Larger numbers of people are already without power in New Jersey.

The biggest threat from the remnants of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy in Western Pennsylvania will come from high winds tonight, with the storm now expected to move away by midday Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Pittsburgh said today.

Meteorologist Fred McMullen, in an 11 a.m. briefing with emergency management personnel, said the highest winds will occur between 8 p.m. today and 4 a.m. Tuesday, with sustained winds of 25 mph to 35 mph and gusts up to 60 mph possible.

The storm is tracking a bit farther east in the latest projection, meaning rainfall totals will be higher the farther east one goes.

Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania are expected to get 2 1/2 to 3 1/2 inches and 4 to 5 inches are expected in the mountains to the east.

"We don't anticipate a rapid rise of streams and creeks. We anticipate a gradual rise ... overnight," he said. Driving in some spots could be hazardous if water covers roadways, he said.

"Thankfully we've been dry. The ground can hold a lot of moisture," Mr. McMullen said.

Winds will diminish after that but rain is expected to continue for a few days, he said. The next possibility of sunshine is Saturday.

No snow is expected to fall in Pennsylvania but there are blizzard warnings for higher elevations in West Virginia and Maryland, including Tucker, Preston and Garrett counties. Snow was already falling in Tucker County, W.Va., and had accumulated about a half-inch, including on roads. Travel in that area, through which Interstate 68 passes, is expected to be very hazardous with blowing wet snow accumulating 1 to 2 feet overnight.

Flooding is forecast later in the week on the Monongahela and Youghiogheny rivers, meteorologist Joe Palko said. The Mon is expected to crest at 22.3 feet at the Point on Wednesday afternoon, which will swamp the Mon Wharf parking lot and 10th Street Bypass. Before that, crests above flood stage are expected at Charleroi and Elizabeth on the Mon and at Connellsville and Sutersville on the Yough.

The weather service was planning to issue a river flood watch this morning.

Mr. McMullen recommended that people secure loose objects like patio furniture; clean storm drains and gutters if necessary; and suggested that those who rely on alarm clocks use their cell phone alarms in case electric service is interrupted.

Gov. Tom Corbett is urging drivers to stay off the roads as Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy approaches the East Coast on course for Pennsylvania.

"Our message is everybody should be prepared," he said in an interview this morning with Philadelphia radio host Dom Giordano. "If they don't have to be on the roads, stay off the roads. These winds are going to be very, very severe."

Traffic on certain roadways in southeastern Pennsylvania is restricted to 45 mph, Mr. Corbett said. Empty tractor-trailers, motorcycles and trailers attached to passenger vehicles are banned from those roads.

Sixteen hundred Pennsylvania National Guardsmen have been called up, and Mr. Corbett said 16,000 are available. Decisions about deploying the guard will be made on the advice of the state adjutant general and the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, he said.

"Hopefully we won't have to use them, but we are prepared to use them," he said. "They are all on standby."

The governor directed residents to the state website, www.pa.gov, for information about the storm.

The approach of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy is affecting transportation, public safety, work and school schedules, political campaigning and trick-or-treating. Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has announced that the City's trick-or-treating hours have been postponed until Saturday from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Trash removal services will remain as scheduled.

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority says it's preparing for the storm by checking the condition of catch basins in low-lying areas, including Washington Boulevard in Highland Park and Saline Street in Greenfield.

Clogged catch basins often are blamed for flooding in the city's eastern neighborhoods.

Residents should check catch basins on their own streets before heavy rain and clear leaves and debris if they're able to do so.

The water treatment plant is preparing for power outages, the authority added.

Water or sewer emergencies should be reported to the authority at 412-255-2429 or 412-255-2409.

Port Authority spokesman Jim Ritchie said the transit agency is mobilizing resources as it would in any severe storm to react to possible blockage of bus and rail routes by downed trees, landslides and flooding.

The authority at this time is not contemplating a total shutdown of the system as has occurred or will occur in Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington.

Many communities have rescheduled trick-or-treat days from this Wednesday to Saturday, Nov. 3. Residents should check with local officials to see if the date has been changed for their community. The PG also is compiling a list.

President Barack Obama has declared an emergency in Pennsylvania and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response to the onset of Post-Tropical Cyclone Sandy.

The President's action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.

The National Weather Service issued a flood warning for Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware and Chester counties until 7:30 p.m. today.

Non-essential state employees under the governor's jurisdiction who work in the Capitol Complex, Harrisburg Area, Pittsburgh, Reading, Scranton and Philadelphia state office buildings are authorized a full-day office closing for Monday. State liquor stores are closing at 3 p.m. today. No decision has been announced as to whether they will be open Tuesday.

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The Associated Press contributed. First Published October 29, 2012 10:45 AM


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