Sandy forces evacuations and snack runs

Posted: October 30, 2012

Sandy's rising winds and rains forced evacuations and closings across the Philadelphia region Monday afternoon, as millions braced for what could be a once-in-a-lifetime storm.

Officials' main message: Stay home. Don't travel. And if threatened by the storm, evacuate to higher ground or to a shelter, bunches of which were open and operating this afternoon.

Still, people made wet last-minute runs for flashlight batteries, food and gasoline, even as the wind kicked debris across roads and shook trees to their roots. Celebrities were not immune.

"Had to get some snacks for the house," said 76ers center Arnett Moultrie, among a steady stream of customers searching for gas and supplies at the Lukoil station at Spring Garden and Columbus Boulevard in Philadelphia.

Many bars and restaurants along North 2nd Street in Northern Liberties were shuttered, but the Palm Tree Cafe and the Green Eggs Cafe were open. Inside Rustica Pizza on the corner of 2nd and Poplar, it was warm, cozy and aromatic with the smells of fresh pies.

The phone has been ringing off the hook, said owner Frank Maimone.

"Our delivery guy's been going nonstop," Maimone said. He had no plans to close early.

"We'll keep going as long as we can," he said. "There are plenty of people out there who aren't on salary and have to pay their bills. And people still have to eat."

On the banks of the Delaware River near the Ben Franklin Bridge, a few curious residents ventured out, wanting to see the water churn before the storm turned fierce.

Andrew Brennan was walking with his 14-year-old son, Andrew, and his schnauzer, Scout. "We figure she's going to be locked up for a few days and we should get out while we can," Andrew said of his dog.

Statewide, the situation was growing more serious. As of Monday afternoon, 24 counties including Philadelphia have emergency declarations, 11,000 people are without power; and 58 evacuation centers are standby to take in up to 31,000 people.

The worst of the storm lay ahead, forecasters warned. But Sandy's early fight was impressive. People near rivers and streams are being urged to remain alert, and to leave quickly if necessary.

Between 500 and 1,000 people were ordered to evacuate in Bensalem, because flooding was expected along the Neshaminy and Poquessing Creeks and the Delaware River. Police were notifying residents of 17 streets, plus those in the Lafayette Gardens condominium complex and at Building 75 at the Creekside Apartment complex near Poquessing Creek, Sgt. Andrew Aninsman said.

Residents of 23 streets near the Neshaminy Creek and seven streets near the Delaware River also were being evacuated, as were those on Galloway Road near the entrance to the Parx Racing stables, Dara Faith Drive, and Windsor Drive.

For the full list of evacuated areas, go to

In Bucks County, all non-essential county government offices are closed, and emergency shelters are open at Council Rock North School, 62 Swamp Road, Newtown; Pennsbury East High School, Hood Boulevard, Fairless Hills; and Palisades High School, 35 Church Hill Road, Kintnersville.

Pennsbury East and Palisades are pet-friendly; pets are not permitted at Council Rock North.

Everywhere across the region, motorists were urged to stay away from low-lying areas and from bridges that are already submerged. Cars can be swept off the road in 12 inches of moving water, officials said, and roads covered by water can collapse. "Turn around, don't drown," they urged.

In Montgomery County, shelters in Pottstown, Cheltenham and Norristown were housing about 50 people, according to the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania.

In Northwest Philadelphia and the nearby suburbs, the storm's arrival left residents in a state of wary readiness. Steady rain stripped trees of their leaves, leaving the roads coated with slick gold, brown and crimson detritus.

Two men in hooded raincoats were out on Ridge Avenue in Lafayette Hill, raking waist-high piles of leaves to keep the road cleared for storm water. A few hundred yards away, near Harts Lane, a minivan had swerved out of control on the slippery road. Police cars and an ambulance, lights flashing, rushed to the scene.

The lights were on in many stores, but the parking lots were mostly empty.

Stores on a flood-prone stretch of Main Street in Darby Borough were closed, with sandbags pressed up against doors -- except for Benett's, a 65-year-old family-owned clothing store, which opened at 9 a.m. as usual.

"We have to serve the public," owner Paul Feldman said, adding that he would close "when the wind starts really howling and (Darby) Creek starts overflowing."

Last year, about two feet of sewage and water backed up into Feldman's basement during Hurricane Irene. Other parts of the 800-block of Main Street often experience severe flooding when Darby Creek overflows. Mayor Helen Thomas already has issued a state of emergency for the borough, and mandatory evacuations were declared for areas along Darby Creek, including the 800-block of Main Street, where Benett's is located.

A shelter has been set up in the Recreation Center at 1020 Ridge Avenue. Capacity there is 350, though Monday afternoon only about 50 had arrived.

Darby Borough Council President Janice Davis said she hoped more people would heed the warning to evacuate and seek shelter.

"We're here for them," said Davis, who spent Sunday night at the shelter.

Davis said donations of food had come from Save-A-Lot, Fresh Grocer, and ShopRite, while other donations came from Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital, and the American Red Cross gave cots, blankets and pillows.

Police Chief Robert Smythe said officers have areas along the Darby Creek, such as 13th and 14th Streets and the 700 block of Pine Street, and encouraged residents to leave. Peco workers have accompanied police and shut off gas and electricity in the targeted areas, Smythe said. About 100 people live there.

At the Recreation-Center shelter, young children romped, played games of Jenga, and shouted as they chased each other. Two men stood outside, drinking coffee and smoking cigarettes.

Anne Flood, 52, and her daughter, Nicole, 14, left their apartment above Benett's clothing store after police drove through, using a bullhorn to encouraging residents to leave.

Flood said when she left home she took her diabetes medicine, dental medicine for Nicole, and a change of clothes - then hitched a ride to the shelter.

"I'm prepared for the worst," she said, "but hoping for the best."

Earlier Monday, a few customers trickled into Benett's, including two Darby officers seeking foul weather gear. Feldman was already sold out, and UPS said there would be no delivery today.

"Thanks for trying," said one of the officers as he left.

Elsewhere in the region, others were trying their best too.

The city of Chester was staffing a 24-hour emergency operations center in the basement of City Hall, where calls were being taken at 610-447-7784.

Residents of the 1400 block of Kerlin Street, 1300 block of Parker Street, 600 block of West 13th and 14th streets were ordered to leave their homes for their own safety. They are being directed to a shelter at the Showalter School at 10th and Lloyd Streets, according to the city website.

PECO will begin to shut down gas and electric services in the area to prevent fires.

"The emergency response has been stepped up since yesterday," said Summer Freeman, communications director for Chester. No incidents have been reported, she said. A separate shelter for animals has been set up at The Barn in Chester Park, where maintenance equipment is usually stored.

Residents will not be allowed to take animals to shelters. However, they can call Chester Animal Control at 215-626-6841 and the city will dispatch someone to take the animals to the shelter, Freeman said.

In Delaware County, a tree fell on a house in the 400 block of School Lane in the Drexel Hill section of Upper Darby. The impact damaged a room where an infant was sleeping, and the baby was transported to Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, according to Ed Truitt, emergency Services Director for Delaware County. He did not know the extent of the baby's injuries.

Local Area Agencies on Aging (AAA) are offering to coordinate shelter and services for older Pennsylvanians. Residents are encouraged to visit or call 1-800-490-8505 to be connected with an AAA in their local area.

Pennsylvania transportation authorities expanded their restrictions on highway speeds, which impacts east and south-central highways. Due to dangerous winds, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission reduced speeds to 45 miles per hour on the following roads:

" Interstate 81 from the New York state to Maryland state border;

" Interstates 78, 83, 84, 380, 176 and 76;

" Interstate 283 and Route 283;

" Interstate 80 east of Interstate 81;

" Pennsylvania Turnpike from New Jersey to Carlisle and the Northeast Extension;

" Route 581; and

" U.S. Routes 15, 30, 22/322 and 33.

In Elkins Park, Cheltenham Township, the storm intensified and the sky darkened. Few cars or people were moving, and the only sound was an occasional siren. Sandbags were stacked at the front door of the new Creekside Co-op, at Hanley Antiques and at the rear of the Walgreen's drugstore at Old York Road and Church Road.

Local creeks were swollen and rising.

In Glenside, Abington Township, veteran mail carrier John Fisher continued his rounds, knowing his circuit would be cut short. Fisher, who delivers mail in a western sliver of Cheltenham Township and an adjoining swath of Springfield Township's Northwoods section, said he had been told to end his route no later than 12:30 p.m.

"When we went out, we all were under the impression that we would be out here all day," said Fisher, a 37-year Postal Service worker.

Earlier Monday, lots of people were on the hunt for supplies - and D batteries were the first to go at Killian's Hardware in Chestnut Hill, possibly the oldest and quirkiest dry goods store in the city. Flashlights, candles, propane, lamp oil, wicks were selling out this weekend, as were fire extinguishers, sump pumps, manual can openers and gloves.

"I try to keep a six-month supply of D batteries on hand, just in case for situations like this," said Russell Goudy, great nephew of founders William A. and Minnie Killian, and the third generation to run the store. "Then you wish you had a one-year supply."

Goudy opened the store early Monday morning, to see what the storm blew in:

Sean Reisman wanted fishing line. Not for fishing in the storm but "because I'm a pretty avid pumpkin carver." Writer and professor Molly McCloskey made do with one of the only battery-generated flashlights Killian's had left.

"Maybe I'll read Proust," she said.

Paula Seitchik bought rope to lash her Weber grill to the deck. Pete Rubincam bought candles and duct. One man came in asking for beach chairs: He's in property management and planned to ride out the storm, presumably with a friend, in an unfurnished house.

"Boots?" one man inquired. No longer. "We used to sell them but only in mother's size," Goudy said. "She figured that way she could take them if they didn't sell but they always did."

Goudy was busy placing an order for a few more hundred batteries and flashlights, all of which are expected to be delivered -- Sandy willing -- by Wednesday. Depending on the storm, Goudy plans to open the store Tuesday.

"We didn't sell out of buckets," he said. "But my guess is people will be coming back in for them."

This story was written by staff writer Jeff Gammage with reporting by Gammage and Inquirer staff writers Martha Woodall, Melissa Dribben, Darran Simon, Mari Schaefer, Porus Cooper, Rita Giordano, Allison Steele, Karen Heller, Carolyn Davis, Bill Reed, and Angela Couloumbis.

Contact Jeff Gammage at

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