Icy crashes give way to flooding concerns

An ambulance overturned on Sicklerville Road near Hickstown Road in Gloucester Township during Friday's icy conditions. No significant injuries were reported.
An ambulance overturned on Sicklerville Road near Hickstown Road in Gloucester Township during Friday's icy conditions. No significant injuries were reported. (Gloucester Township Police Department)
Posted: January 13, 2014

Following an ice storm that bedeviled the peak Friday morning commute, the Philadelphia region was preparing for potential widespread flooding Saturday.

Temperatures could soar to 60 degrees with rain throughout the day, said Larry Nierenberg, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.

With rivers and streams still jammed with ice - the hangover from the coldest outbreak in 20 years - flooding could occur swiftly, even in waterways well below flood stage.

On Friday morning, freezing rain turned roadways around the region into black ice, triggering scores of motor-vehicle crashes, including at least one that was fatal.

Roads in South Jersey turned into a "skating rink," the New Jersey state police said.

The number of accidents overwhelmed emergency responders, some of whose vehicles skidded out of control.

Although the National Weather Service had issued a freezing-rain advisory Thursday, the precipitation was heavier and temperatures colder than expected. The result was havoc.

New Jersey state police said troopers handled more than 250 accident calls between 7 and 10 a.m.

Camden County dispatchers, who usually handle about 1,800 calls on an average day, fielded about 1,000 calls just from 6:30 to 10:30 a.m. Friday, a spokesman said.

One of those calls Friday was for a crash that left one person dead and 17 others injured in Pine Hill.

Authorities said a 29-year-old Lindenwold woman driving an SUV was killed when it slammed into an NJ Transit bus about 7:30 a.m. on West Branch Avenue. The victim was identified as Roxana Ortega. A passenger in her vehicle was treated at Cooper University Hospital.

The SUV was traveling south on West Branch when it apparently spun out on the icy road, authorities said. The vehicle was struck by a Route 403 bus heading in the opposite direction.

The bus was carrying 21 people, including the driver, en route to Philadelphia when the crash occurred. Seventeen passengers were taken to local hospitals for treatment of minor injuries. The bus driver was not hurt.

A firefighter was taken to Cooper with minor injuries after he was ejected from a fire truck that ran off Route 206 in Tabernacle, Burlington County, state police said.

Another fire truck reportedly ran off the road in Washington Township, Gloucester County. In Gloucester Township, Camden County, a police patrol car was rear-ended while stopped to investigate a vehicle crash, authorities said. No injuries were reported in either accident. Police there responded to 71 accidents and traffic incidents in a three-hour stretch.

A multi-vehicle accident closed the Philadelphia-bound lanes of the Walt Whitman Bridge about 8:20 a.m. Then, at 8:30 a.m., the Delaware River Port Authority closed all the bridge's lanes and ramps to salt the roadways. The bridge reopened in both directions about an hour later.

DRPA crews also put down salt at the agency's three other spans - the Ben Franklin, Betsy Ross, and Commodore Barry Bridges. NJ Transit reported up to two-hour delays on buses in Burlington, Camden, and Gloucester Counties before resuming normal service about 11 a.m.

The icy conditions prompted the Camden City School District to suspend bus traffic for about 30 minutes, an official with the district said.

After several bus drivers called in to notify the district of the quickly deteriorating road conditions, the decision was made to cease pickups and wait out the weather. Students sat in heated buses for about a half- hour.

The official said buses got all students to school by 10:45 a.m.

The Washington Township School District reported several mishaps involving school buses, but said no students were involved. In one instance, a van struck a bus in a school parking lot near Bells Lake and Green Tree Roads.

At 11:30 a.m., the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation's entire regional fleet of trucks was still mobilized, said spokesman Brad Rudolph. By then, the snow in the western suburbs had changed to rain in most areas and the temperature was rising.

"The next thing we have to worry about," he said, "is flooding."


twood@phillynews.com

610-313-8210

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Melanie Burney, Robert Moran, Allison Steele, and Julia Terruso.

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