True to the weather forecasters’ projections, Hurricane Irene crept into our region last Saturday bringing heavy rain throughout the night and gusty winds on Sunday morning. While the Upper Perkiomen Valley and nearby areas were spared from the full force of the storm, damage was still widespread as 5 to 7 inches of rain fell upon a region already saturated from 13 inches of rain dumped on it during the month of August.
The heavy overnight rainfall caused area creeks and waterways to spill over their banks, damaging homes and property as rushing waters filled basements and washed away anything that wasn’t tied down. By mid-morning, the torrential downpour was replaced by winds that, at times, gusted up to 50 mph, uprooting trees and bringing down power lines. Power outages in our region were not widespread and PP&L reported most customers had their power restored by Tuesday afternoon.
Pa. Governor Tom Corbett took the precautionary move of declaring a statewide disaster emergency 24 hours before the hurricane struck the commonwealth, in part, to give state agencies the flexibility they would need to provide help to local emergency responders during the storm.
During the height of the hurricane on Saturday night and Sunday morning, local road crews and fire companies were kept busy with storm-related emergencies. According to Chief Jim Young of the Milford Township Fire Company in Bucks County, they responded to more than 55 storm-related emergencies. In Montgomery County, Pennsburg Fire Company Chief Scott Seip reported seven storm-related calls. Chief Scott Alderfer of the Red Hill Fire Company reported that the company responded to 14 storm-related calls including a water rescue in Richland Township, Bucks County. East Greenville Chief Grant Boyer reported that his company responded to eight calls during and after the storm. Ten storm related calls were reported by Green Lane Chief John Miller. All of the companies are staffed by volunteers.
Shortly before 11 p.m. Saturday night, Montgomery County Communications broadcast a message to emergency responders that PECO had recalled all of their work crews to their quarters and that no PECO crews would be available to respond to any calls [until further notice]. Emergency responders would still be dispatched and were to advise if any of the incidents were critical or life safety electrical issues. As of Tuesday, about 3,000 PECO customers in Montgomery County were still without electrical service. About 4,000 PECO workers, outside contractors and crews from out-of-state completed 2,500 repair jobs, including 640 jobs with damaged trees in the 48 hours after Irene struck.
PP&L reported power outages for about 200,000 customers in nearly every one of its 29-county service territory. Most of those outages were in the Lancaster and Harrisburg areas but about 14,000 customers in the Lehigh Valley were affected. In addition to their own workers, the Allentown-headquartered power company brought in about 80 employees and contractors from its Kentucky operations to help out.
Damage was reported throughout the area including at the construction site of the Swamp Creek Bridge in Marlborough Township where the waters of the raging Unami Creek washed away scaffolding and a construction shed as well as portions of the newly constructed roadway leading to the span. The bridge had been undergoing extensive repairs for the past several months.
Marlborough Township manager Paul Williams said that "work crews were brought in Sunday to barricade impassible roads and begin cleanup."
Upper Hanover Township road crews were kept busy for more than 12 hours, removing fallen trees and keeping roads open during the storm.
According to Jeanne Hopkins, administrative manager for Pennsburg borough, work crews were brought in during the storm for road closures and some water damage at the Pennsburg borough hall. She added that, "We were pretty well prepared for the storm."
East Greenville Borough Manager Jim Fry reported that crews were out on Monday cleaning out storm drains and removing a large section of a tree that toppled and closed the 200 block of Jefferson Street. Fry also reported that, as of Wednesday morning, there are still three buildings without electrical service in the borough.
Red Hill Borough Manger Darlene Stoudt reported no serious incidents in the borough and that crews performed "storm-related cleanup" on Monday morning.
In Milford Township, manager Jeff Vey reported that work crews were active "before, during and after the storm." In preparation of the hurricane, crews were busy cleaning out storm drains and, during the storm, they worked to identify and remove tree branches that threatened to bring down power lines. Cleanup continued into Wednesday morning.
Hurricane Irene claimed more than 40 lives and caused billions of dollars in damage during its run up the eastern seaboard. There were no reports of serious injuries or death in our immediate area.
President Barack Obama issued a disaster declaration on Monday for Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lehigh, Luzerne, Monroe, Montgomery, Northampton, Philadelphia, Pike, Sullivan, Wayne and Wyoming counties. The action authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts and provide help to save lives and protect property and public health and safety in the affected counties.
But the federal government’s disaster aid account is running short of money as it gets ready to confront the billions of dollars caused by Irene. With less than $800 million in FEMA disaster aid coffers, the agency has been forced to freeze rebuilding projects from earlier disasters, including Hurricane Katrina, for emergency needs in the wake of Irene.
Residents and businesses seeking relief can apply for assistance at www.disasterassistance.gov or call 1-800-621-FEMA(3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired.