The worst of post-tropical cyclone Sandy has passed through Western Pennsylvania, meteorologists said, but heavy snow falling in West Virginia closed a portion of Interstate 68 and steadily falling rain to the north prompted flood concerns.
At a briefing this morning Allegheny County Exec Rich Fitzgerald said, "It looks like Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and Western Pennsylvania may have dodged a bullet."
The Allegheny County Emergency Operations Center got about 400 additional calls over a 24-hour period, he said, most of them reporting minor issues like downed wires, ponding on roadways and flooded basements.
There was no significant flooding from streams or creeks, Mr. Fitzgerald said.
Fewer than 100 Duquesne Light customers were without power as of 5 p.m. and all were expected to have their service restored by 11 p.m. About 9,000 West Penn Power customers reported outages at 4:30 p.m. but that number had dropped to closer to 1,300 as of 9 p.m.
No evacuations were ordered and the county did not open any of its emergency shelters.
"For the most part, it's much better than we anticipated," he said.
Farther south, West Virginia Gov Earl Ray Tomblin declared a preemptive state of emergency statewide on Monday, dispatching National Guard troops to areas that were expected to be hardest hit.
On Interstate 79 this morning heavy rain turned to wintry mix at Mount Morris, becoming heavy snow around the West Virginia line.
There were conflicting reports from various state and local agencies about how much, if any, of I-68 in West Virginia was open.
According to the Morgantown detachment of the West Virginia State Police, one westbound lane was open from exit 15, about 13 miles east of Morgantown, to the Maryland border, while all eastbound lanes remained closed.
At the same time the Preston County Office of Emergency Management, which includes a long stretch of I-68 east of Morgantown, reported that all lanes remained closed in both directions.
The state Department of Homeland Security closed the road between the Cheat Lake exit to the Maryland-West Virginia line.
Snow was accumulating in the ridges of Westmoreland and Fayette counties.
Nearly 18 inches of snow had fallen in Tucker and Davis counties, West Virginia, and 12 inches was reported in Garrett County, Maryland, which saw white-out conditions.
Emergency management agencies in West Virginia reported 12 crashes on I-68 before it was shut down in both directions to the Maryland line. They had originally hoped to reopen the westbound lanes, but at 10:30 a.m. the Preston County Office of Emergency Management reported that the entire stretch of interstate remained closed, with no estimate of when it could reopen.
Preston County, which covers a vast swath of rural, wooded and mountainous areas south and east of Morgantown, is under a state of emergency with multiple serious problems, said Kathy Mace, the county administrator, who was helping out in the Office of Emergency Management.
"We probably have 97 percent of our county without power," she said. "We have power lines down in every community. Trees are coming down faster than we can clear them. We probably have an average of between one and three-and-a-half feet of snow and its still coming down. This is very wet, heavy slushy snow and the plows can hardly keep up because of the number of trees down. Phone outages and cell outages are widespread throughout the county."
By Tuesday morning authorities had established one emergency shelter in Bruceton Mills and were preparing to open another at the Craig Civic Arena in Kingwood, she said.
Anyone whose heat is out can go, but those who need power for their medical oxygen supply were especially urged to go there.
"This power outage could last for a while," she said.
Sandy also brought the first snowfall of the season in parts of Pennsylvania.
Mount Pleasant residents reported thundersnow to the National Weather Service about 10:30 p.m. and a trained spotter reported it in Farmington, Fayette County.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett said 1.25 million Pennsylvania electric customers are without power, and more outages could be on the way.
But in a morning briefing the governor said the state appeared to have escaped the worst of the storm, and he said he would be in touch with the governors of harder-hit New York and New Jersey to see if they needed resources, like medical workers or shelter space, that Pennsylvania could spare.
"We don't have a coastline," Mr. Corbett said. "I think that's what helped us considerably, from what I see of the damage going on in New York and New Jersey, the storm surge and the record wave heights, tide heights."
He added: "But anybody who is without electricity is probably not saying that we dodged a bullet."
With rain and wind continuing in Western and Central Pennsylvania, the state will continue to monitor the storm, Mr. Corbett said.
He noted that as the storm turns up into New York, it will continue to rain on an area where water flows into the Susquehanna River.
Robert Powelson, chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, said more than 2,500 crews are in Pennsylvania from outside the state. While diminishing winds will provide an opportunity for them to begin work, he said it is too soon to say when power will be restored.
"This storm has had a profound impact on the utility footprint of Pennsylvania," he said.
At Pittsburgh International Airport, many arriving and departing flights were canceled.
Most were to and from eastern cities such as New York, Newark, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
But some outbound flights to points west -- to Cleveland, to Chicago -- were also canceled.
After entering Pennsylvania in the southeast, the storm was centered just west of Chambersburg at the time of a 9 a.m. press briefing. Mr. Corbett said the sustained winds had slowed to between 25 and 30 mph, with gusts not much faster.
Thirty-eight counties have declared emergencies, and 43 counties have emergency operations centers up and running, he said. He said all hospitals in Pennsylvania are operational.
Fort Indiantown Gap, northeast of Harrisburg, is being used as a staging area for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which has 250 people there, Mr. Corbett said.
Those workers are supplementing 1,700 National Guard troops deployed across the state. The state has four warehouses of food available for mass feedings.
Speed restrictions were lifted this morning, aside from areas in the northwest, Mr. Corbett said. About 433 bridges are out, and roads are closed throughout the state.
The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board announced all state-owned wine and spirits stores will remain closed today.
Other officials agreed the damage wasn't as bad as anticipated.
"Likely, we've seen the worst of the winds from Sandy," National Weather Service meteorologist Charlie Woodrum said early this morning. "We still have the potential for another inch of rain before the system pulls out of here."
Armstrong County's public safety director said this morning that the county thus far had been spared serious damage from rain or wind.
About 115 homeowners and businesses around the county are without power, public safety director Randy Brozenick said.
Reports of power loss have come in from Boggs, Cowanshannock, Kiski, Madison, Mahoning, Parks, Plumcreek, Valley and Wayne.
First Energy, which serves much of Armstrong, was not able to estimate when electric service would be restored, Mr. Brozenick said.
There have been reports of minor road flooding, he said, but no streets or highways have been closed.
"Most of the reports coming in to 911 are of trees down, wires down and basement flooding," he said.
When Sandy made landfall Monday night on the coast of southern New Jersey, it combined with another upper-level storm, losing its tropical strength and instead taking on the characteristics of a land storm, National Weather Service meteorologist Rihaan Gangat said.
"It's not your storm that you see every two years," he said.
In Western Pennsylvania, rivers were gauged at 17.7 feet at the Point Downtown early this morning and were expected to crest at 21.9 feet on Thursday afternoon, a level that would flood the Mon Wharf but was safely below the 25 foot flood stage, the National Weather Service said.
In McKeesport, portions of the dock at the McKees Point Marina had broken off and floated away this morning, while others hung on precariously as police, firefighters and Mayor Mike Cherepko watched.
Candy Deemer, who works at the McKees Point Cafe, said one of the upstream docks broke off sometime around 9 a.m. and then got jammed under another dock. It, too, threatened to break loose and damage other docks.
Mrs. Deemer said a pontoon boat was tied into one of the docks and would likely be lost to the current.
Allegheny County officials briefly closed the McKeesport-Duquesne Bridge while the debris cleared.
West Mifflin police closed Route 837 in both directions after a land slide tonight.
The road remained closed about 10:30 p.m. between the Duquesne-McKeesport Bridge and the Boswell Oil Co. on Washington Avenue in Dravosburg.
Police said PennDOT crews were called to clear and evaluate the scene. They did not have an estimated time for reopening the road.
But while Allegheny County was largely spared, other Western Pennsylvania counties saw acute flooding or braced for the possibility of rivers spilling their banks.
In Westmoreland County, 18 people from Ligonier Borough and a dozen others from nearby communities had to be rescued from their homes because of rising floodwaters, said county spokesman Dan Stevens. Dispatchers said 16 of those were taken to local shelters.
The worst of the flooding seemed to be concentrated around Ligonier Borough, where meteorologists received reports that 3.62 inches of rain fell in 24 hours. Several areas along the Loyalhanna Creek were nearing flood stage, but the water was receding, said meteorologist Lee Hendricks of the National Weather Service. In Ligonier, where the weather service has not set a flood stage, the creek jumped from 6 feet early Monday to nearly 20 feet this morning.
Mr. Stevens said two dozen roads across Westmoreland County were closed because of flooding and warned against residents leaving their homes to ogle storm damage. Flooded roads included Route 30, Route 18 and Route 259 in Ligonier, Route 981 in Mount Pleasant, 251 in Fairfield, Route 130 in Cook and Route 981 in Bell.
"Stay off the roads," he said early this morning. "If you don't have to go out, stay home."
But by this afternoon, Mr. Stevens said he was advised by the National Weather Service that the water was expected to recede. Four roads had reopened and he hoped all would be cleared for rush hour traffic.
In Elizabeth and Charleroi, meteorologists initially expected the Monongahela River to crest above flood stage, but cancelled the flood warning at around 10:40 a.m. Another flood warning for the Youghiogheny River in Connellsville, Fayette County, was also cancelled.
But flood warnings remained in affect for the Youghiegheny River in Sutersville, which was expected to crest its banks at around 5 p.m. today, raising fears it could flood the business district in nearby West Newton. Mr. Hendricks said the weather service predicted the Conemaugh River in Seward, Westmoreland County, was expected to crest at 13.5 feet, a foot and a half over flood stage.
"Flooding is a concern right now," Mr. Hendricks said. "We've gotten some significant rainfall across the region. Streams and rivers are both coming up. We're trying to monitor that."
Still, meteorologist Bob Coblentz said the weather service was adjusting its forecast as the day wore on and predicting milder weather.
"It's a little more positive," he said. "Things are not as grim as they were."
Many schools throughout Western Pennsylvania already had canceled their classes, and Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl told non-emergency city workers that they did not have to report for duty.
In Somerset County, a woman was killed in a car crash in which the driver lost control because of snow and slush on the road, Pennsylvania State Police said. Alice Hynes, 81, of Williamstown, Mass., died when the car she was riding in rolled off Kingwood Road in Upper Turkeyfoot and landed in a farm pond.
Police said the driver was able to escape, but the woman was unable to get out of the car. She died at Somerset Hospital.
Three other storm-related deaths have been confirmed in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Ruth Miller said the deaths occurred in Susquehanna and Berks counties.
An 8-year-old Susquehanna County boy died Monday afternoon 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, near Boyertown.
A man trimming a tree in preparation for the storm fell and died Sunday in Rapho, Lancaster County.
Also, an infant was slightly injured when a tree fell on a house in Upper Darby in Delaware County.
President Barack Obama declared an emergency in Pennsylvania and ordered federal aid to supplement state and local response to the onset of the storm.
The president's action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.
Officials at all levels of the government are urging residents to stay inside and to stay tuned for more information as the storm progresses.
In a press release today, the Red Cross said it has provided 3,200 people with shelter, deployed more than 1,300 disaster workers and prepared nearly 150 emergency response vehicles with relief supplies across nine states.
Lauren Chapman, spokeswoman for the Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania, said her chapter has not been asked to provide shelter or services to anyone in the area, though other chapters throughout the nine-state storm region have provided shelter to more than 3,200 people.
"We are going out into the community and assessing how we can help, but so far we have not had any requests for help," Ms. Chapman said.
"Eastern Pennsylvania was definitely hit hard and some other states as well and it may be that we deploy volunteers to other parts of the country or state," she said.
She said the Red Cross opened an emergency shelter in Shaler on Monday night, but it wasn't necessary and has since been closed.
Allegheny County officials received reports of a rock slide near the intersection of Glassport Road and Ohio Avenue in Glassport.
Flooding continues in several places.
In Allegheny County, officials received staggering reports of wires that had fallen onto roads and flooding in many homes, including several in Stowe. Emergency responders were told to use the front entrance to Ohio Valley Hospital because the back entrance flooded late Monday night.
Washington County dispatchers reported about 2:30 a.m. that several homes had flooded in the city of Washington.
Notable flooding was also reported in Sewickley.
Most county officials received reports of downed trees or wires and said much of the damage appeared to have been scattered rather than concentrated in certain areas.
Heavy rains caused "ponding" on several roads between Armbrust and Greensburg about midnight, the National Weather Service reported. The rain caused two bridges to flood.
Some residents in Lincoln are reporting as much as 6 inches of flood water in their basements, Allegheny County officials said.
Nearly 3 inches of rain fell in Connellsville and 2.86 inches was reported in Punxsutawney. Observers at the dam in Morgantown reported 2 inches of rainfall.
Staff writers Liz Navratil, Moriah Balingit, Ann Rodgers, Karen Langley, Jon Schmitz, Len Barcousky and Jacob Quinn Sanders contributed to this report. First Published October 30, 2012 4:30 AM