LEVITTOWN, Pa. (AP) — A one-two punch of rain and high wind from a monster hybrid storm that started out as a hurricane battered Pennsylvania, leaving more than a million customers without power as officials began assessing the damage Tuesday.
The storm soaked Philadelphia and its suburbs Monday night, but forecasters said the worst was behind the state by daybreak Tuesday.
Gov. Tom Corbett said landlocked Pennsylvania managed to avoid the catastrophic damage seen in coastal communities but still faced serious challenges from the powerful winds and heavy rains that lashed the state.
"Anybody without electricity is probably not saying we dodged a bullet," he said.
The severity of the storm in Pennsylvania expressed itself through a set of increasingly worrisome numbers, from the hundreds of people who fled their homes in the southeastern part of the state to the power outages affecting more than 1.2 million customers by early Tuesday.
At least five deaths were attributed to the storm. They 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.
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 she was riding in skidded off a snowy, slushy roadway and overturned into a pond.
PECO reported 585,000 without power in Philadelphia and nearby counties, a total which would fluctuate as residents awoke to find their service disrupted.
"This will still be multiple days," PECO spokesman Fred Maher said Tuesday morning. "We'll be able to get a lot of folks back up pretty quickly, but it'll take us several days to get everybody back to power."
About 3,000 repairmen from Ohio, Kentucky and Chicago were poised to help the state's utilities restore service.
PPL Corp. said the storm caused 395,000 outages in its service territory, enough to rank it among the top 3 or 4 in its history. Crews were out at daybreak taking stock of the damage, and the company planned to send up a chopper to do an aerial survey. A spokesman said power might not be fully restored for a week or more.
"From a weather standpoint, this is a much larger, more powerful and dynamic storm than Hurricane Irene last year," PPL spokesman Michael Wood said. "Outages just accumulated remarkably fast."
Between 2 and 6 inches of rain fell in eastern Pennsylvania, according to the National Weather Service. High winds were reported across the state with peak gusts of 81 mph reported in Allentown.
The storm snapped trees all over the state. Caution tape blocked both streets at one South Philadelphia intersection where splintered trees had landed on top of vehicles.
Downed trees and power lines and flooding forced a significant number of road closures across the eastern part of the state. PennDOT reopened Interstates 95 and 676 in the city and previously closed stretches of I-76 and 476 on Tuesday morning but reported much work still needed to be done.
High winds were so bad at one point PennDOT pulled its crews off the roads for a time for safety reasons, spokesman Charles Metzger said.
"As many trees as we're going after, we had more trees coming around our guys," he said.
Government offices, many courts and countless schools were shuttered on Monday and remained closed at least through Tuesday. US Airways canceled all flights Tuesday out of Philadelphia International Airport and the city's transit system was preparing to assess damage before making a decision on restarting service.
Corbett extended Tuesday's absentee ballot application deadline for a day or two for counties where the courthouses were closed Monday, Tuesday or both.
Two juveniles were injured in Levittown on Monday night, one of them seriously, when a tree fell on them while they were outside during the storm, said John D. Dougherty Jr., the county's director of emergency services. Fallen trees also slowed fire trucks responding to a house fire in Tinicum Township, he said, and the home burned to the ground; no one was injured.
Flooding, a major fear following last year's inundations, proved to be only a minor issue by Tuesday morning.
The biggest concern in Blair County was the Juniata River. County emergency management director Dan Boyles was optimistic Tuesday morning after it appeared the worst of the storm had passed.
"Water-wise, we're in great shape. No flooding whatsoever," Boyles said. "The Juniata held. ... Our only concern is the duration of the power outages."
The National Weather Service said breezy and rainy weather will persist through Tuesday, but wind gusts aren't likely to top 30 mph as the storm's center churns through central Pennsylvania. Snow associated with the hybrid storm hit upper elevations in western Pennsylvania, including 9 inches reported on Mount Davis, the highest point in the state.
The Red Cross set up 58 evacuation centers that could shelter 31,000 people. Hundreds of people were evacuated in the Philadelphia suburbs of Bensalem Township and Darby Borough, where officials feared overnight floods.
"I'm not going through this again," said Sheila Gladden, who left her home in Philadelphia's Eastwick neighborhood. "They're telling me this is going to be worse than (1999 Hurricane) Floyd because this is some superstorm. I'm not going back until the water's receded."
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania early Monday that will allow state officials to request federal funding and other storm assistance.
PECO is a subsidiary of Exelon Corp.
Associated Press writers Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., and Randy Pennell in Philadelphia contributed to this report.
- Natural Phenomena