Local authorities brace for Super Storm impact; Watches, warnings in effect

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PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh area is bracing for what Hurricane Sandy could bring to the area.

Severe Weather Team meteorologist Kevin Benson said rain will continue throughout the day Monday and will be heavy at times.

Overnight and into Tuesday, Benson said, wind gusts could reach up to 60 mph and 2 to 4 inches of rain is expected. Flooding is possible in small streams and creeks.

Super Storm Sandy slammed into the New Jersey coastline with 80 mph winds and hurled a record-breaking 13-foot surge of seawater at New York City on Monday, roaring ashore after washing away part of the Atlantic City boardwalk.

Just before its center reached land, the storm was stripped of hurricane status, but the distinction was purely technical, based on its shape and internal temperature. It still packed hurricane-force wind, and forecasters were careful to say it remained every bit as dangerous to the 50 million people in its path.

The National Hurricane Center announced at 8 p.m. that Sandy had come ashore about five miles from Atlantic City. The sea surged a record of nearly 13 feet at the Battery, at the foot of Manhattan.

A flood warning and a high-wind warning are in effect through Tuesday afternoon for the entire Channel 11 viewing area.   

A blizzard warning is also in effect for Garret, Preston and Tucker counties starting Monday at 6 p.m. through Tuesday evening.  Heavy, wet snow and 40-mph winds with gusts up to 60 mph are likely. 

Locations in the highest elevations are expected to receive up to 8 inches of snow.  Locations in the lower elevations are expected to receive snow mixed with rain (no accumulation).  The visibility will drop to less than one-quarter mile in the heaviest snow bands. 

 


Red Cross:

Businesses are preparing for what this storm could bring to the area, and the Red Cross wants residents to be ready for flooding and power outages.

Volunteers at the local Red Cross headquarters in Pittsburgh have been preparing survival kits that contain everything from toothpaste to food.

“It’s looking like we are going to be opening a few shelters in our region, so right now we are just preparing and we want to make sure if we open shelters, it will be a quick and proficient process,” American Red Cross volunteer Lauren Chapman said.

Thane Clamann, a volunteer at the Red Cross, said he helped out during Hurricane Isaac and feels sad when he sees the devastation, but happy to know he can help someone in need.

“We are here to help and we love to help,” Clamann said.

If the kits aren’t needed in Pittsburgh, Chapman said they will be sent to other areas in need.

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services said the Public Inquiry Line will be activated at 7 p.m. Monday as a result of Hurricane Sandy. As this event affects all of Allegheny County, individuals in need of emotional support, resources or information are encouraged to call the Public Inquiry Line at 412-482-3250.

 


City of Pittsburgh/Allegheny County:

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and Pittsburgh Public Works director Michael Huss held a news conference Monday afternoon.

Huss said public works crews and safety employees will be on call for 24 hours. An emergency operations center is being set up next to the Allegheny County police department in Point Breeze.

The emergency operations center will be a central location for all safety and emergency staffing, communications and calls. Officials said the center will be staffed 24/7 and available to respond to calls.

Three specialized swift-water rescue teams are also on hand in case they are needed, Huss said.

Ravenstahl urged all residents to stay informed through social and news media. He also urged residents to stay indoors and in touch with loved ones.

Non-emergency calls should be made to 311, not 911, officials said.

So far, there are no disruptions in city services (i.e. trash collection).

Officials from the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority said crews are checking on catch basins, and trucks are equipped with barricades. Officials said they will also be keeping a close eye on Washington Boulevard, the site of a deadly flash flood in August of 2011.

 


Closings:

State liquor stores closed at 3 p.m. Monday, and officials will determine Monday night or Tuesday morning if the stores will remain closed for business Tuesday.

PennDOT closed photo-licensing centers in East Rochester, Penn Hills, East Liberty, New Kensington, Monroeville and Clairton Boulevard beginning at noon Monday through Tuesday.

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania closed at 2 p.m. Monday. The court will be closed Tuesday and resume normal working hours on Wednesday.

CCAC closed at 4 p.m. Monday. Evening classes, labs, clinical experiences, offices, student activities and other activities were canceled. School officials had not made a determination regarding class on Tuesday.

Robert Morris University canceled classes from 3:45 p.m. Monday through 12:15 p.m. Tuesday. RMU canceled evening activities Monday.

All Pittsburgh Public Schools facilities will be closed Monday night. The district said all after-school activities are also canceled.  This includes club meetings, athletic games and practices and activities with community organizations that hold building permits.

The Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium will be closed Tuesday.

 


Transportation:

 Airlines canceled more than a third of the scheduled departing flights at Pittsburgh International Airport through 2 p.m. Monday because of rain, snow and wind connected to the super storm.

Officials said 44 of 125 flights, including ones to New York; Newark, N.J.; Boston; Philadelphia; Washington, D.C.; Detroit; Baltimore; Cincinnati; and Hartford, Conn., were canceled. Airline officials said they planned to cancel 30 of 71 flights scheduled to depart after 2 p.m.

Pittsburgh International Airport spokeswoman JoAnn Jenny said airlines made more than a dozen "repositioning flights" to the airport, opting to "park their planes here to keep them out of the eye of the storm."

Jenny advised passengers to confirm the status of their flight before traveling to the airport.

Megabus also announced the temporary cancellation of service to and from more than 20 cities through Tuesday. Affected routes are in Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Virginia.

The following routes to and from Pittsburgh are canceled for Monday in both directions: New York - State College - Pittsburgh; and Philadelphia - Harrisburg - Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh - Morgantown - Washington route is canceled at 5:45 p.m. from D.C. and 5:30 p.m. from Pittsburgh; Pittsburgh - Cleveland - Toledo - Ann Arbor - Detroit, all trips canceled this afternoon

The following is canceled for Tuesday: New York - State College - Pittsburgh; Philadelphia - Harrisburg - Pittsburgh, for all trips departing at either end before 3 p.m.; Pittsburgh - Cleveland - Toledo - Ann Arbor - Detroit, all trips canceled both directions during the morning.

PennDOT and the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission said they strongly urge motorists to avoid unnecessary travel in eastern Pennsylvania including the area from Harrisburg north to the New York border, east to the New Jersey border and south to the Maryland border.

State officials are considering banning all travel with the exception of emergency vehicles if wind speeds continue to increase, according to PennDOT officials. Most roads are open and experiencing extremely high traffic volumes.

Amtrak said it canceled nearly all service on the Eastern Seaboard Monday.

All Acela Express, Northeast Regional, Keystone and Shuttle services are canceled. Also Empire Service, Adirondack, Vermonter, Ethan Allen and Pennsylvanian train services are suspended, along with the overnight Auto Train, Capitol Limited, Crescent, Lake Shore Limited, Palmetto and Silver Meteor trains.

Amtrak suspended its Thruway Bus Services associated with the canceled trains. Alternate transportation for canceled services is not available. Dates for service restoration are pending.

 


Utility crews on standby:

First Energy officials said they're doubling their dispatch staff to respond to potential power outages. Crews will work 12-hour shifts. Power restoration crews will work 16-hour shifts.

Despite the preparations, officials said they're still expecting some challenges.

"The problem is when you get a big storm like this that covers a wide geographic area, instead of being able to call Duquesne Light or another nearby utility for help, they're in the same boat," said Todd Meyers of First Energy.

First Energy customers affected by a power outage should call 888-LIGHTSS (with two s's).

Duquesne Light officials said they have activated its storm team in preparation for the storm.

The company's storm team provides around-the-clock coverage. Crews have also been placed on 16-hour shifts to deal with any outages that may occur.

Staffing in the company's call center will also be increased. Officials said depending on the severity of damage, there could be prolonged outages due to falling trees and power lines.

 Some things for Duquesne Light customers to remember are:

  •  Keep Duquesne Light's Outage Number handy (1-888-393-7000) and always report your power outage.  Never assume your neighbors have reported the outage.
  • Sign up for an online account at www.duquesnelight.com http://www.duquesnelight.com and report your outage online.
  • Sign up on the Company's Twitter and Facebook pages for storm damage and restoration updates.
  • Have a flashlight with fresh batteries on each floor of your home.
  • Have a battery-powered clock and radio available.

  If an outage occurs:

  •  Stay away from downed wires, damaged electric equipment, and tree limbs and branches contacting electrical equipment.  Always assume wires and equipment is energized - even if there is an outage in your neighborhood. Report these dangerous conditions to Duquesne Light immediately.
  •  Turn off and unplug appliances and other devices to prevent possible damage.  Remember to keep one light on so you know when service has been restored.
  •  Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible.  Move meats, cheese, milk, etc. into the freezer to stay colder longer.  A partially full freezer can keep food frozen for up to 24 hours, and up to 48 hours when full.
  •  Customers with generators should never connect them directly to home wiring or plug them into household outlets.  Generators connected to home wiring can 'back feed' into the electric delivery system, risking serious injury or death to our crews. Generators should always be placed outside to prevent carbon-monoxide poisoning.

Statewide/National response:

 Early Monday morning, President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania.

Gov. Tom Corbett said he wants Pennsylvanians to find a safe place and remain there for the duration of the storm.

“These are going to be sustained winds. Once the ground is saturated and you have those sustained winds, you will have the potential for a number of trees to come down. The wind will knock power lines down,” Corbett said.

Gov. Corbett also announced Monday night that interstates around Philadelphia will be closed from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Tuesday.

 

Channel 11's news exchange partners at TribLIVE  and the Associated Press contributed to this report.