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Pa. first responders, dispatchers swamped with nearly 2,000 911 calls during storm

Heavy rain, flooding led to 27 water rescues in Delaware County


Middletown Fire Company No.1/Facebook

By Pete Bannan
Daily Times

DELAWARE COUNTY, Pa. — Delaware County 911 operators fielded almost 2,000 calls throughout the storm Tuesday that brought heavy rain and wind gusts as high as 51 mph, as officials are in the process of closing the Darby Red Cross shelter Wednesday.

The Delaware County Emergency Communications hub received 1,964 calls during the storm as first responders answered 1,916 incidents throughout the county, including 27 water rescues, according to county Emergency Services Director Timothy Boyce.

At the county’s busiest hour, 9 p.m., 321 calls came into the 911 center.

“We were busy,” he said. “We were busy from right when the storm started until it ended ... We were prepared. We were busy across the whole county.”

The peak wind gust recorded by the National Weather Service at Philadelphia International Airport was 51 mph. The automated equipment at the airport recorded 2.09 inches of rain for the storm, all of it Tuesday. That was a date record.

Boyce said he hadn’t received any reports of deaths associated with the storm but said the areas that normally experience flooding such as Darby, Colwyn , Essington and Chester, along with the Brandywine Creek area, did again this round.

“We believe we have limited damage to homes but we do have a lot of trees down,” the director said. “We’re out today doing what’s called damage assessment.”

He said the evaluation will determine how many homes were damaged overnight.

“We do expect a lot of roofs off,” Boyce said.

The power situation

PECO is reporting at 4 p.m. Wednesday that there were still more than 8,300 electric customers without power in Delaware County, though that’s down from a peak near 33,000 in the height of the storm Tuesday.

The current outage number is spread across nearly 400 separate locations that need to be repaired. Restoration times vary significantly.

“At this time crews are assessing damage and we will update restoration times as they become available,” said utility spokeswoman Madison Davis. “This estimate can change based on restoration progress and the extent of damage our crews find. We expect to restore the majority of customers impacted by this storm within the next 24-48 hours.”

PECO is checking for a cumulative total for the county.

Red Cross shelter

Boyce said Wednesday morning that officials were in the process of closing the American Red Cross shelter at the Darby Recreation Center at 1020 Ridge Ave.

As of 10:15 a.m., it remained open, according to Alana Mauger, spokesperson for the Southeastern Pennsylvania chapter of the American Red Cross.

Having opened it at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday, Mauger said, “Overnight, we had 10 people and one dog.”

She said this shelter was the only one needed in all of southeastern Pennsylvania during this storm.

“We do have Red Cross liaisons working with emergency personnel throughout the area,” Mauger said.

The center was closed at noon.

“Our teams will be assessing damage throughout the region to determine next steps,” Mauger added then. “People displaced by flooding should call 1-800-REDCROSS.”

Darby Council member Janice Davis, who stayed at the center until about 3 a.m. to assist, said the evening was quiet but officials are always ready to help.

With reports of another storm on the horizon, Mauger added, “We’ll be continuing to have ... conversations with our community partners and if it happens, we’ll be ready.”

Another storm is shaping up for a Friday night impact of heavy rain, according to the weather service. Even an inch on top of the saturated grounds is likely to cause some flooding.

“A strong low-pressure system will affect the area bringing another round of heavy precipitation on Friday and Saturday,” said the weather service’s Mount Holly, N.J., office on Wednesday.

Even beyond that, another storm might be hitting the region on Tuesday.

A weather service-issued wind advisory runs until 6 p.m. Wednesday. There remains a danger of trees being uprooted by the winds.

Expect clearing skies on Wednesday afternoon with gusty winds during the cleanup. The temperature is expected to drop after dark, with a low near freezing by daybreak on Thursday.

In Chester

Chester City Hall had to close on Wednesday and its regularly scheduled city council meeting had to be canceled because of a lack of electricity. The next meeting will be 10 a.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 24.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Chester Mayor Stefan Roots said there wasn’t an estimated time yet from PECO when City Hall’s power would be restored.

However, city streets were clear.

“Flooding is pretty much not an issue,” Roots said. “Roads are for the most part open. We did have a number of downed trees that were moved to the side of the road last night.”

This debris was being picked up throughout the day Wednesday.

‘We were lucky’

In Eddystone, Chester Pike in front of the Eddystone Shopping Center was closed Wednesday morning as floodwaters from Crum Creek covered the road.

One driver tried to go through the water but the car stalled and was stuck through the storm, Eddystone police said.

Darby Police Chief Joe Gabe said the borough prepared early for the storm and was ready. At about 10 p.m. personnel assisted residents evacuating from Pine Street, Springfield Road and 13th Street.

“The water went over the bridge (on MacDade Boulevard ) about 9 to 10 p.m. and kept rising,” Gabe said. “Thankfully PennDOT showed up and got debris cleared and water flowing again, then it receded.”

In Ridley Township, a number of trees came down blocking area roads. Michigan Avenue near Drew Avenue was closed as power lines were pulled down.

Dave Englander said his power only went out for a few minutes from the storm.

“With that wind, the way it was howling, we were lucky,” Englander said.

The rescues

Middletown firefighters responded to more than a dozen calls during the height of the storm including trees and wires as well as a tree into a home.

Four of their water rescue technicians assisted the Western Delco Water Rescue Task Force with a motorist stuck in high water in Thornbury as well as rescuing a man stuck in a tree at Riviera Road and Flora Lane in Upper Chichester along with the help of other task force members from Aston, Media and Chester Heights fire companies and Chester Fire Department.

Video of Delaware County water rescue teams pulling a person to safety from flood waters Tuesday night in Upper Chichester . They were stuck in a tree.

‘Dumb and dumber’

In Chadds Ford, Route 1, which is also called Baltimore Pike, was closed by floodwaters from the Brandywine Creek near Creek Road. Pennsylvania State Police expected the closure to continue into the evening.

By 1 p.m. Wednesday, the water was slowly receding.

Four vehicles had been caught in the floodwaters and abandoned after their drivers had to retreat or be rescued by firefighters.

“Rarely do you get a chance to see ‘dumb and dumber,’ ” said a motorist who stopped to look at the ruined vehicles. “Thinking your Honda will get through high water.”

The northbound lanes had reopened but officials still expected it would be hours before the southbound lanes would reopen.

Route 1 south in Chadds still closed however the northbound lanes are reopened.

Floodwaters around the intersection were high but not as severe as some recent storms. Officials from Chadds Ford Township were accessing the flooding but they municipal building had lost Internet and phone access as a result of the storm.

In Prospect Park Police Chief Dave Madonna asked motorists to avoid the 900 block of 13th Avenue if at all possible, he noted motorists have been going around the barriers which he called, not helpful.

Madonna was also exasperated at one resident, who during the height of the storm wanted first responders to use a stick to remove a downed live wire from her vehicle.

In Tinicum, Township Manager David Schreiber said there was some flooding in the 100 block of Jansen Avenue, which is usual during a storm such as this one.

“We’ve had some minor debris in the streets,” he said. “We’ve had one report of a downed pole.”

The biggest culprit, however, was flooded basements and calls from residents to clean them up.

“When the ( Delaware ) River is at high tide and we get 3 inches of rain, there’s not a lot we can do about that,” Schreiber said.

‘Outstanding performance’

Boyce spoke about how emergency personnel responded to the situation.

“We were fortunate that the storm came right at shift change,” he said, adding that some stayed later than the ending of their 7 p.m. shift. “They’re pros. They managed it. It’s an outstanding performance once again by the team.”

He said the barrage of calls began to slow around 11 p.m. to midnight.

With a multitude of vehicles moving into the water, Boyce credited the first responders as well in working in hectic environments.

“Our career and our volunteer fire departments once again stepped up,” he said.

Boyce warned that some vestiges of the storm remain.

“We are still dealing with PECO damages but they seem to be localized,” he said. “At one point, we had 10,000 out across the county.”

“Still,” Boyce warned, “many, many roads are closed and the Brandywine continues to be over the flood stage.”

The director praised the work by all those responding in harrowing situations.

“A great job by our police, fire and EMS once again,” Boyce said. “They answered the call.”

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