As Philadelphia police took inventory early Tuesday afternoon to assess the local impact of Hurricane Sandy, one glaring need became apparent - more yellow caution tape.
During the preceding 20 hours or so, cops spent countless rolls of the stretchy plastic striping to cordon dozens of potential disaster scenes from unsuspecting, curious and sometimes reckless civilians. Police used caution tape to mark toppled trees and power lines, to close intersections where traffic lights failed and to block at least one major auto accident scene.
With 9-1-1 calls pouring into the police and fire radio rooms from dusk Monday into Tuesday’s pre-dawn hours, patrol officers and firefighters raced from job to job, lingering at each site only long enough to take a report and set up a safety perimeter if needed.
“We had a tremendous amount of downed wires and trees,” said Capt. Frank Bachmayer of the 15th Police District, who also supervised operations in the neighboring 2nd district for the night. “Officers put crime scene tape up, secured the scene and went off to the next scene.”
There were no deaths or major injuries reported in any of the Northeast’s four police districts, according to district supervisors. Bachmayer was unaware of any street flooding.
Most folks adhered to public safety warnings and stayed off the streets, including criminals.
“Crime kind of took a back seat last night,” said Capt. Joe Zaffino of the 7th Police District. “[But] the cops were running all over the place with downed trees and downed wires.”
But there were at least a couple of life threatening cases in the Northeast.
Shortly before 2 a.m. Tuesday, police were notified that a large tree had fallen onto an occupied car on Rhawn Street near Holmehurst Avenue. The 30-to-40-foot tree crushed the hood and roof of the older model Buick sedan. But when police got there, the driver was nowhere to be found.
Bachmayer thinks that the tree may have fallen before the eastbound car happened upon it and undercut its thick primary branches.
“The tree went down, the car ran into it and the guy fled,” Bachmayer said.
Police don’t know how many people were inside the car or who they were. Investigators are trying to use the vehicle tag to locate its owner. The driver could be cited for leaving the scene of an accident.
Elsewhere in the 15th district, firefighters responded to the 4200 block of Cottman Ave. at about 9 p.m. Monday where wires fell onto homes and sparked flames. Several residents were evacuated to an unknown location, Bachmayer said.
A visual survey of the properties on Tuesday afternoon showed no obvious signs of exterior damage.
The same couldn’t be said for a Sprint wireless store on the 2100 block of Cottman Ave. At about midnight during the storm, its brick exterior facade collapsed, revealing the underlying cinderblocks.
By Tuesday afternoon, the building’s windows had been sealed with plywood, although its pink, displaced bricks remained scattered on a nearby sidewalk. The city’s Department of Licenses and Inspection condemned the building for repairs.
In the Far Northeast, members of the Delaware River Yacht Club at Grant Avenue and Milnor Street arrived on Monday to find that Sandy had mangled their boat docks and staging pier.
According to the club’s rear commodore, Joe Apice, storm waters and winds lifted two wooden and steel docks and twisted them toward the river bank, before the tide swept them back into deeper water. Most of the club’s 80 active members had pulled their vessels out of the river before the storm, but two sailboats and the club’s “tender” boat weathered the onslaught on the water.
Meanwhile, a floating crane used by the club for launching boats broke from its mooring and floated about a mile down-river before crashing into pier pilings near Linden Avenue. The dollar value of the yacht club damage is not known.
Elsewhere in the Far Northeast, incidents involving major property damage were few, police said.
In one case, officers were called to a beauty salon at Academy and Byberry roads for broken windows. Fearing a burglary, police entered the property to investigate, triggering the alarm. There was no evidence of a crime. Mother Nature did the damage.
“It was that windy,” said Sgt. Mike Colello of the 8th district. “I think [Hurricane] Irene was worse water-wise, but wind-wise this was worse.”
Local streams did not reach water levels seen during prior storms like last year’s Hurricane Irene. The Pennypack Creek at Frankford Avenue appeared to rise about three feet above normal levels on Monday afternoon and early Tuesday, but did not overflow its stone embankment.
By Tuesday afternoon, the creek had already receded a couple feet.
Similarly, currents in the Poquessing Creek were swollen and fast-moving, but low-lying areas like Grant Avenue near the Torresdale train station did not flood.
Conversely fallen trees blocked roadways throughout the Northeast. There were several locations along Roosevelt Boulevard. In the northbound lanes, trees were down near Ryan Avenue, Rhawn Street and Woodward Street. Police closed the three outer lanes at each site.
In addition, a downed tree blocked the three southbound outer lanesnear Faunce Street, while fallen limbs created additional roadway obstacles.
Numerous intersections lost power to their traffic lights, including Grant Avenue and Academy Road; Ashton and Willits roads; Cottman Avenue and Horrocks Street; and Cottman Avenue and Cottage Street.
Crime-wise, police in the 15th district were aware of only a couple of major crimes.
“We may have had a robbery or two,” Bachmayer said. “It was a relatively quiet night on crime.”
In the 7th and 8th districts, police investigated a handful of theft reports. There were no reports of widespread burglaries or looting of businesses.
”[Crime] was real low. Everybody hunkered down,” said Colello, whonoted that additional crime reports may be delayed because merchants may have yet to return to their shops.