Pols survey the damage, & spin

Posted: August 30, 2011

BY THE TIME Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley toured flood-ravaged Darby Borough yesterday, he had already coined his Hurricane Irene catchphrase.

"We prepared for the worst, we prayed for the best and we got something in between," he said. "Quite frankly, we're OK with that."

But for some of the Darby residents who made their way to Cawley's outdoor news conference, OK is still a long way away.

Roshanda Maxwell said that she has an inch of mud in her house and all her food was destroyed by floodwaters.

"There's a lot of people that need help rather than just somebody saying it will be OK," said Maxwell, 41. "You can say it will be OK, but it's almost 6 o'clock and what are we going to eat?"

Hurricane Irene's damage in Darby is evident, especially along Darby Creek, where entire sides of buildings were washed away.

At a Napa Auto Parts near the creek, manager Joe Harkins and his staff were drying much of their stock outside in the afternoon sun. Harkins showed Cawley where the water reached up to four feet in his tiny store.

"What are you going to do?" Harkins mused. "What are my choices? At least we all have jobs and we'll be able to unlock the doors tomorrow morning."

Nearby, as Cawley and Darby Mayor Helen Thomas looked over a stone wall into Darby Creek, they were visibly shocked by the heavy smell of gas wafting up from the waterway and the corresponding sheen on the water.

"Certainly, from a layman's odor detection, it smelled as if it was some sort of fuel oil," Cawley said later. "That is obviously something that is very serious that we want to address right away."

The sheen and smell is believed to be caused by a home heating oil tank dislodged by flood waters and trapped inside a collapsed building, said Deborah Fries, community relations coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Protection's Southeast Regional Office.

Officials were unable to access the tank last night because of safety concerns, she said.

Cawley said that governments at every level are just starting to assess how much financial damage Irene caused.

Mayor Nutter said yesterday that the city's price tag for costs in overtime staffing and other expenses would not be clear for several weeks. He said that the city would pursue any state or federal reimbursement money available.

Nutter praised the city's response to Hurricane Irene, saying that he was proud of city workers and residents.

By yesterday afternoon, Nutter said that much of the response was winding down. The city's Emergency Operations Center had been deactivated, just 17 people were left in city shelters and about 2,500 city residents remained without power.

Most of SEPTA was back in service, although Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York will remain suspended today because of flooding in Trenton. SEPTA's Regional Rail service to Trenton will instead stop and start in Levittown.

- Staff writer Catherine Lucey

contributed to this report

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