Sandy whips N.J., Del. shorelines, aims for Philly

Hurricane Sandy is gnawing at the the New Jersey and Delaware coastlines, knocking out power and chewing up boardwalks.  Further west, an eerily quiet Philadelphia awaits the storm’s hammer blow this evening.

 

Complete Sandy Coverage

Up and down the Jersey shore, pounding surf is surging across beaches. Parts of the Atlantic City and Ocean City boardwalks have broken up, according to photos being posted on Twitter and Instagram.  Water is two feet deep on Atlantic Avenue, with pieces of boardwalk in the water, according to blogger Amy Rosenberg.

At a briefing, Gov. Chris Christie said about 35,000 New Jersey customers are without power, 21,000 of them with Atlantic City Electric.    He also said that as of 4 p.m. the Garden State Parkway will be closed from Cape May up to Woodbridge, Exit 129.

In Sea Isle City, Mayor Lenny Desiderio said his town is “getting walloped.”

“We got water where never had it before,” he said. “Just making sure to get everybody who didn’t leave out to safety. We did a reverse 911 call to tell anybody that’s left that we will make arrangements to get you out before tide comes back up. Right now is our best chance. … We have a dozen families to get out.”

Christie had some pointed words for Shore residents who are clinging to the idea of riding out the storm in place. They weren’t as pithy as his famous “Get the hell off the beach” line during Irene in 2011, but were still blunt:

“Twenty-five percent of the people decide to stay in Seaside Heights! It’s just stupid!” Christie said.   “If any of you watched as I was watching this morning some of the news folks on the boardwalk in Seaside Heights, and that’s at noon today and the storm is 200 miles away.  What do you think it’s going to be like in 12 hours when the storm comes on shore?”

In Bay Head, N.J., Kelly Mickle, the deputy emergency management coordinator, said late this morning that the ocean has surged over the beach and onto Route 35 and local streets.

Camden County and the Red Cross have opened a shelter for storm evacuees at the Camden County Community College.

Lori Schaffer, director of public relations at Cooper University Healthcare in Camden, says the hospital is well-prepared for the hurricane.

“Hospital is fully operational at this point,” she said. We have all staff on deck up as needed. Our emergency department as well as all of our other in-patient departments are fully operational. We have closed all of our out-patient offices for today, Monday, as well as tomorrow, Tuesday.”

In Delaware, Gov. Jack Markell has issued a Level 2 driving ban.

Under the new law passed last year that means “no person shall operate a motor vehicle on Delaware roadways other than essential personnel.”

Scenes from an anxious city

The Philadephia region suspended normal life today to get ready for Sandy.  Streets in the city  are eerily empty; the parking lots of some suburban shopping centers are deserted.

People have begun to filter into the three shelters set up around the city, with around 230 people plus 18 pets having taken refuge by late this morning.

Mayor Michael Nutter said at a briefing going on right now that the city wants people to take the storm very seriously, but to hit the right note between “nonchalant and hysterical.”

The Philadelphia public and Catholic schools are closed today and tomorrow, as are a host of suburban schools.  For a full list of school closings, check out our partner, WCAU-NBC10.

The Philadephia County court system will be closed Tuesday, as well.

In the city’s Manayunk section, which knows a thing or two about storms and floods, WHYY/NewsWorks’ Megan Pinto found mostly empty streets this morning, but some purposeful activity.

As one of the last places with flashlights in the neighborhood, the Commissary Food Market on Ridge Avenue has seen a steady stream of customers.

“I’ll take two,” said Sarah Moweyer, who also picked up glow in the dark axes to occupy her kids home from school.

Another customer saw a bad sign when his tally came out to $6.66.

The Manayunk Diner at the bottom of Main Street was also open — “Koreans never close for anything,” said Lily Lee, the owner’s daughter — but business was slow. Benjamin Kall came in for what might be that last “nice, full breakfast” for a while.

At the G.J. Littlewood and Son fiber dyeing factory on Main Street. Wallace Littlewood, now retired aspresident and chairman of the board, said he’s seen his fair share of storms at the Manayunk shop.

“The first one I remember was 1933 and that was pretty much statewide and then we had some ones between that,” he said. “In ’72 we got a big one; we had six feet of water in here and then in ’99 we had another big one.”

He said the business is more prepared now than it used to be. Most of the doors in the factory are plated up; all fiber has been moved to higher ground; sandbags are ready to be secured in front of the doors and six large water pumps are placed throughout the site.

WHYY/NewsWorks’ Maiken Scott reports that in the city’s Fairmount section, residents are using popular tourist spots to track Sandy’s advance, glancing over the Schuylkill river from the gazebos behind the Art Museum and near the Water Works. The river is swelling but not yet at flood stage.

Klein’s  grocery store on Fairmount Avenue is open despite the storm, and owner Steve Klein says it’s been a very busy day so far as residents stock up on food:

“People have a panicked, startled look in their eyes, like ”Oh no, the world is coming to an end. It seems like they are buying for the Armageddon, like they are going to be locked in their abodes for months at a time.”

Little is moving around the region. All mass transit is shut down. So is Philadelphia International Airport.  All schools are closed.  Most people are staying home from work.

The word on wind

The National Weather Service said this morning that Sandy will produce damaging wind gusts up to hurricane force across our region later today into early Tuesday.

“Sandy has intensified and will be powerful as it slams into the New Jersey Coast this evening with periods of widespread damaging wind gusts between 65 and 85 mph,” the weather service said. “Preparations must be completed by noon as conditions will worsen substantially this afternoon and evening.”

Gusts late this afternoon could get as high as 75 mph, the NWS said.  Winds in Philadelphia could be as strong this evening as Sandy heads west past Philadelphia.  Dangerous gusts are expected to continue until Tuesday morning, but the worst winds and damage will occur overnight around Philadelphia.  Power outages are expected to be widespread.

Because of the likely high winds, the Delaware River Port Authority has suspended all truck traffic on its spans across the Delaware as of 2 p.m.   PennDOT has banned all travel by tandem tractor-trailers and motorcyles on interstates and the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Michael Nutter, who declared a state of emergency Saturday, had a simple message Sunday for everyone who is not absolutely needed at their jobs Monday: “Please stay home.”

SEPTA shuts down

And people who take mass transit to work were out of luck anyway.

SEPTA shut down all trains, buses, subways and trolleys shortly after midnight.  So did NJ Transit and PATCO.

“It’s in the best interest of the safety of our customers and our employees and we want to protect our equipment as well so we can resume service hopefully sometime on Tuesday,” SEPTA’s Richard Maloney said. “Prediction of the storm is quite unusual. We are expecting it last longer than most tropical storms or hurricanes. We really can’t make an educated decision until Tuesday when we see the storm finally getting out of the area.”

Emergency declaration

President Obama has signed an emergency declaration covering Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett welcomed the news: “This declaration will provide federal funds so that the state and municipalities can take life-saving measures.

Corbett said he expects widespread flooding around the state, along with power outages that could last for days.

He says PECO has brought in 1,100 workers from Chicago to help repair lines and restore service. Pennsylvania Power and Light has called in 1,500 workers from Kentucky, and First Energy has more than 150 workers coming from Ohio.

Pennsylvania Utility Commission chairman Robert Powelson says utility companies have learned a lot about how to communicate better with customers about power outages, but they’re still anticipating to see a lot of trees and power lines downed during the storm.”Are we overhyping this? Absolutely not,” Powelson told reporters at a briefing in Harrisburg. “This event is going to have a profound impact on our utility footprints.”

So far power outages in Pennsylvania are minor, but Sandy has not yet hit with full force. More than 30,000 customers in New Jersey have lost power.

Flooding is likely throughout the region; with the full moon, a tidal river such as the Delaware is already at a high level.

To check on flood status of rivers and creeks in the region, check out this federal Website: http://water.weather.gov/ahps/region.php?rfc=marfc

Flights grounded

The airport cancelled all flights for Monday.  Altogether, nearly 7,000 flights nationally have been cancelled as airlines seek to avoid having their aircraft stuck on the ground at East Coast hubs.

WHYY/NewsWorks’ Tom MacDonald visited some stranded travelers at the airport.

Ruby Molinar was on her first trip to Philadelphia.

“Our flights were canceled Sunday night and they were rebooked until Wednesday. This is the first time I’m facing this and it’s a little scary,” said Molinar.

Jeff Powell came in from Denver, Colo.,  for his 20th high school reunion. .

“I’ve seen it before,” he said. “I went to college in North Carolina got hit with a couple of hurricanes down there,  Just a matter of staying safe and warm and getting some food.”

Shelters open

Below are the Red Cross shelters that opened Sunday night in Philadelphia, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery Counties. Shelters in Bucks opened today. As of 9 a.m. today, about 250 people had already sought refuge in Red Cross shelters in and around Philadelphia.

Philadelphia:

West Philadelphia High School, 4901 Chestnut StreetRoxborough High School, 6498 Ridge AvenueSamuel Fels High School, 5500 Langdon Street

Montgomery County:Pottstown High School, 750 North Washington St., Pottstown 19464 Cheltenham High School, 500 Rices Mill Road, Wyncote 19095. This shelter will have a veterinarian on the premises. Norristown High School, 1900 Eagle Dr., Norristown 19403

Chester County:Avon Grove High School, 257 E. State Road, West Grove 19390 Lionville Middle School, 550 W. Uwchlan, Avenue Exton 19341

Delaware County:Showalter Science and Discovery School, 1100 West 10th St., Chester 19013Ridley Middle School, 400 Free Street, Ridley, 19078

Bucks County:

Palisades High School Pennsbury East High School Council Rock North High School

And you thought they didn’t have a heart … the Philadelphia Parking Authority has announced that parking at its metered and kiosk spaces will be free until Wednesday.

Worry in Delaware

In Delaware, water was starting to cover some low lying roads south of Wilmington as of midday Tuesday, with more intense impacts for New Castle County in the coming hours. A city evacuation order was fully in effect from the state of the storm. Residents appeared to heeding the warning.

Police closed New Castle Avenue at Terminal Avenue this afternoon in a scene that will likely be repeated throughout the Route 9 corridor in the near future. Water covered several roads south in and around Old New Castle as well.

A WHYY news crew just missed getting hit by downed power lines by a few minutes along West 3rd Street in New Castle. More than 800 Delmarva Power customers were in the dark as of 1:30 Monday afternoon. That number is expected to soar as the wind speed continues to increase.

Delaware City had its pumps in place trying to put water back in the Delaware River as fast it as it appeared on town streets. The Delaware City post office on Clinton Street was piled high with sandbags created before the storm roared into the state.

Gov. Markell said there are thousand of emergency personnel in place. The Delaware National Guard is on standby and the seven shelters have taken in about 500 people overnight.

Events postponed

Hundreds of events slated for this week have been postponed or cancelled.

Here are a couple of postponements for events co-sponsored by WHYY:

The Philadelphia Speaker Series talk by author Jeanette Walls slated for Monday evening at the Kimmel Center has been postponed to 8 p.m., Monday, Nov. 5.

A debate for Delaware’s U.S. Senate candidates scheduled for Tuesday at Widener University Law School has been postponed, and may not happen.  The law school has announced it will be closed Monday and Tuesday. WHYY was to have been a co-sponsor of the debate and to broadcast it on television on a delayed basis.

Another WHYY event, a Tuesday evening member event with State Impact Pennsylvania reporters Susan Phillips and Scott Detrow has been postponed.

The Philadephia Hospitality Inc.’s Vision for Philadelphia Awards dinner, slated for tonight, has been cancelled.

 

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