Northeast Philadelphians watched a natural disaster of epic proportions unfold on Monday night and into Tuesday. But fortunately for the locals, most of Hurricane Sandy’s damage showed up on their television screens and not at their doorsteps.
Images of Sandy’s immense destruction at the Jersey Shore, in New York City and along Long Island’s southern coast dwarfed Northeast Philly’s problems, which were mostly limited to countless toppled trees and fallen power lines, causing widespread power outages.
In the storm’s wake, streets were left littered with branches that been torn away as well as other debris and blankets of wet leaves.
Tony Fidura, of the 14000 block of Kelvin Ave. in Somerton, spent part of Tuesday with a power saw, cutting away a 75-foot tree that fell onto the street and damaged the hood and fender of his car, which was parked at curbside.
“It’s no longer a PT Cruiser. It’s PT Crush,” he said.
The storm’s impact left traffic lights dark at many major intersections, including on Roosevelt Boulevard, and side streets became a maze of detours as trees and power lines blocked roadways. Homeowners ventured out Tuesday morning to assess the damage in their yards and begin the cleanup.
Steady but rarely heavy rains fell most of the day Monday and softened the ground. Then gale force winds with violent gusts up to 70 mph paralyzed the area that evening, leaving most folks housebound while police and firefighters raced through the streets in response to an endless litany of 911 calls.
Observers for the National Weather Service measured about two inches of rainfall in the Northeast from about 4 a.m. Monday through 10 p.m. Tuesday. Local creeks did not overflow their banks, nor did low-lying streets flood. In the five-county Philadelphia region, 850,000 customers lost power, including 65,000 within the city’s boundaries, according to PECO.
Power had been restored to 390,000 homes regionally as of Wednesday morning, although 37,000 Philadelphia homes remained without power.
No storm-related deaths or major injuries were reported in Philadelphia, including emergency responders and other city employees, authorities said. In contrast, 22 deaths were reported in New York City alone, according to CNN. There were seven storm-related deaths throughout Pennsylvania.
In Northeast Philly, Nazareth Hospital helped a half-dozen patients, said Christy McCabe, the hospital’s marketing and communications director. Among them were several people with back injuries suffered while clearing trees and branches in their yards. A few others needed help with chronic conditions due to electrical service delivery disruption or visited the hospital because home oxygen suppliers could not deliver during the storm.
Mayor Michael Nutter and other public officials had issued repeated warnings about potential flooding and evacuations, but they did not materialize. Nonetheless, the cautions appeared to succeed by influencing most folks to stay out of harm’s way.
“I didn’t see hardly anybody [on Monday] night,” said Sgt. Mike Colello of the 8th Police District, who was on patrol during peak
hours of the storm.
It appeared as if most Northeast residents stayed home, while some moved into a temporary public shelter at Samuel Fels High School. By Tuesday morning, 27 adults, six children and 11 of their pets remained at Fels, according to Philadelphia’s Office of Emergency Management.
Meanwhile, slightly fewer people were at another public shelter at Roxborough High School. A third city shelter at West Philadelphia High School had about 227 occupants. The shelters remained open until Wednesday.
“Things went pretty smoothly at all the shelters,” said Joan Przybylowicz, the OEM’s deputy director for external affairs.
Przybylowicz said the storm was bad, but she believes the relatively few flooded areas kept the populations down at the high schools. She encouraged residents to visit the Web site ReadyNotifyPa.org and sign up for its notification service to monitor weather and other emergencies that might impact the area.
She also invited Twitter users to follow her office. Its handle is @philaoem
At the high schools, the Red Cross delivered cots and supplies, while the Salvation Army provided food. Philadelphia and school district police were on hand, along with city emergency medical technicians and volunteer medical personnel.
“It was very orderly. The residents were very cooperative, and the city was very cooperative,” said Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader.
Hourly weather observations published by the National Weather Service showed that Sandy, a category 1 hurricane that was later downgraded to a post-tropical cyclone, brought steady rains from about 4 a.m. through noon on Monday, then again from 3 to 5 p.m. Rainfall resumed at about 10 p.m. Monday and continued for about three hours. The NWS noted “heavy”
rain from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday and 3 to 4 p.m. Monday.
Winds began increasing in velocity on Monday afternoon. Prevailing winds were measured at 36 mph, with 45 mph gusts, at about 3 p.m. Monday. Prevailing winds peaked at 43 mph at about 7 p.m. Gusts routinely reached about 60 mph from 5 p.m. through 11 p.m. Monday and reached as high as 70 mph at Northeast Airport, according to the National Weather Service.
Total rainfall for the storm was measured at 1.62 inches at Northeast Airport and 2.17 inches in Rockledge, the NWS reported, while volunteer observers noted a reading of 2.35 inches elsewhere in the Northeast.
Neighborhoods and subdivisions throughout Northeast Philly were affected by power outages.
“We’ve had outages from top to bottom in the district,” said Capt. Joseph Zaffino, commander of the 7th Police District.
The 7th district spans from Rhawn Street to the Poquessing Creek and from Roosevelt Boulevard to the city’s border with Montgomery County. It is one of four districts in the Northeast.
According to Zaffino, one outage spanned from the 11700 block of Stevens Road north to Southampton Road and from Worthington Road west toward Bustleton Avenue in Somerton. At the corner of Stevens Road and Welton Street, a tree fell into six or seven utility wires, pulling them from a pole.
“We had a couple of [power] transformers on fire. They put themselves out,” Zaffino said.
Another outage occurred from the 8000 block of Algon Ave. to the 8600 block of Algon and eastward toward Bustleton Avenue in Rhawnhurst and involved several thousand homes, according to the police captain, who spoke with PECO officials.
On Wednesday afternoon, Nutter reported that traffic signals at 73 intersections in the city had lost power during the storm and 31 were still inoperable. Affected intersections in the Northeast included Grant Avenue and Academy Road, Ashton and Willits roads, Cottman Avenue and Horrocks Street, and Cottman Avenue and Cottage Street.
Meanwhile, city crews had cleared 60 downed trees from city streets. All major thoroughfares had been cleared by Wednesday afternoon, but about 80 smaller streets remained blocked by trees, Nutter said.
In the Northeast, trees blocked the outer three northbound lanes of Roosevelt Boulevard at Ryan Avenue, Rhawn Street and Woodward Street, as well as the Boulevard’s outer three southbound lanes at Faunce Street. Rhawn Street was blocked near Holmehurst Avenue, as was Rowland Avenue near Hartel Avenue. All were reopened to traffic on Tuesday. ••
John Loftus and Tom Waring contributed to this article.