Heavy storms make a mess of rush hour in the region

Posted: June 13, 2007

Heavy thundershowers - ah, it really must be June - drenched most of the Philadelphia region just in time to snarl the afternoon rush hour yesterday, on roads and at the airport.

First came the ominous blackness, then the bright flashes in the northeast sky, then sudden, heavy downpours, some of them spiked with hail a half-inch in diameter.

"Some places have really been pounded," said Valerie Meola of the National Weather Service office in Mount Holly.

In East Goshen, Chester County, 1.5 inches of rain fell in less than 45 minutes. Some areas of southern Bucks and Montgomery Counties got more than 2 inches in a short time.

Almost 30,000 Peco Energy Co. customers lost electricity as pole-top transformers exploded from lightning strikes and as tree limbs broke and crashed onto power lines.

Rain poured like Niagara Falls from a bridge over the Schuylkill as soaked joggers lumbered along the path by the dark, swollen river.

And hundreds of drivers found themselves stranded on the eastbound portion of the upper Schuylkill Expressway about 3 p.m.

A tree near Gladwyne had toppled onto the highway, partially blocking the lanes. Six hours later, traffic was still jammed as road crews worked to saw up the tree.

In Philadelphia's West Oak Lane section, firefighters rescued a man from a car crushed by a tree on Limekiln Pike near Ridley Street. The 55-year-old man was taken to Albert Einstein Medical Center with injuries that were not life threatening, officials said.

In the Northern Liberties section, downed power lines set a car afire in the 300 block of Poplar Street. Firefighters put out the blaze after a Peco crew shut off power. No injuries were reported.

As thunderstorms usually do, the bad weather stranded thousands of passengers at Philadelphia International Airport. The departure screens read "delayed," "delayed," "delayed."

Passengers on the 4:30 p.m. Delta jet to Cincinnati were boarding at 8:20 p.m., and the 3:45 p.m. US Airways flight to Buffalo was listed for takeoff at 9:40 p.m. Every airline, if you'll pardon the expression, was in the same boat.

By midevening, Peco said it had restored power to all but 5,500 customers.

More thunderstorms are expected in the area today - that would make it three in a row - but the weather service said they were not likely to be as numerous.

Contact staff writer Tom Infield at 610-313-8205 or tinfield@phillynews.com.

Inquirer staff writers Anthony R. Wood and Joseph A. Gambardello contributed to this article.

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