Region digs out after record storm; cold cited in 3 deaths

Daniel Potoczniak digs his car out on Ellsworth Street in South Philadelphia. Dense bands of fluffy dendrite flakes meant big accumulations of snow Tuesday. The 13.5 inches of snow broke a 53-year-old record in Philadelphia.
Daniel Potoczniak digs his car out on Ellsworth Street in South Philadelphia. Dense bands of fluffy dendrite flakes meant big accumulations of snow Tuesday. The 13.5 inches of snow broke a 53-year-old record in Philadelphia. (MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 24, 2014

Dangerous cold gripped the region Wednesday as Philadelphia and neighboring counties dug their way out of the remnants of a record winter storm, and officials said the harsh weather played a part in three deaths.

Little relief is in sight. Subfreezing temperatures are expected to continue into next week, with only a brief respite Saturday.

A wintry pattern could persist for the next two to three weeks, the National Weather Service said. A touch of snow is possible Thursday and Saturday, and perhaps something more substantial early next week, forecasters said.

The 13.5 inches measured officially after Tuesday's storm was one of the biggest snowfalls in Philadelphia in records dating to 1884. The seasonal total now stands at 33 inches, compared with an average of 22.2 for an entire season.

Temperatures were in the teens or lower across the region Wednesday, and at daybreak the wind chill had dropped to 17 below zero.

The extreme cold was a suspected culprit in three Delaware County fatalities.

In Ridley Township, an 89-year-old man in the Folsom section and an 93-year-old woman in the Secane section were both found outdoors Wednesday morning, police said. Although details were not available, police said the deaths were related to the frigid temperatures.

A 67-year-old man was found unresponsive by his wife outside his Swarthmore home around 7 a.m. and was later pronounced dead at a hospital, the Delaware County Medical Examiner's Office reported. The death was believed to be cold-related.

A train with NJ Transit's River Line was struck by a car Wednesday morning in downtown Camden, injuring the 62-year-old driver of the car and halting service briefly on the light-rail line. Officials said the crash might have been related to the weather. The northbound train was returning to the yard with no passengers on board. The train operator was not injured.

Philadelphia public and archdiocesan schools, which had been closed for a day, were scheduled to resume classes Thursday.

The city called off its snow emergency at 6 p.m. Wednesday, reporting that all primary and secondary roads were passable, along with 80 percent of the smaller neighborhood streets that the city classifies as tertiary.

Streets Commissioner David J. Perri reiterated a commitment that all city streets would be passable within 48 to 72 hours of the storm, giving the Streets Department until the end of the day Friday to make good on the promise.

The end of the emergency declaration allowed motorists to resume parking on about 100 miles of Philadelphia roadway designated as snow emergency routes.

More than 300 vehicles were towed from those roads after the emergency was declared. Officials said any motorists still looking for their cars should be able to locate them by calling 215-686-7669.

Mayor Nutter said city government would resume normal operations Thursday morning after nonessential workers were sent home Tuesday afternoon and given the day off Wednesday.

Trash collections will also resume Thursday - though a day behind normal schedules because of Martin Luther King's Birthday on Monday.

After a perilous Tuesday when the storm hit, the main highways in Southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey were relatively clear Wednesday, with lighter-than-normal traffic because many offices and schools were closed for the day.

Temporary speed restrictions on the Garden State Parkway and New Jersey Turnpike were lifted.

All SEPTA bus routes and train lines were operating, except the Route 35 bus in Manayunk. There were bus detours and rail delays and some cancellations because of the weather-related problems and ground conditions.

A shortage of engineers and conductors forced the cancellation of numerous SEPTA Regional Rail trains, especially during the evening rush hour.

As many as 40 engineers and 80 conductors did not report for work Wednesday, said Ron Hopkins, assistant general manager for operations. Supervisors were able to fill many of the positions during the morning rush hour, he said, but many evening runs had to be canceled. Similar problems were encountered with SEPTA buses, as scores of drivers did not report for work, he said.

Philadelphia International Airport said airlines canceled a total of 110 flights Wednesday. Nationwide, U.S. airlines canceled 1,793 out of 28,787 scheduled flights, according to FlightView, a flight-tracking company.

Between 8 a.m. Tuesday and 8 a.m. Wednesday, 12 teams of workers from Philadelphia nonprofits combed the city in search of the homeless, bringing 62 people in from the cold, said Marcella Maguire, director of homeless services for the city's Department of Behavioral Health.

About 20 to 30 people elected to remain outdoors as of Wednesday night, said Maguire, whose office coordinates the outreach teams from groups such as Project HOME.

Those who remained outside - most of them encamped under I-95, both at Aramingo Avenue in the Port Richmond area and at Oregon Avenue in South Philadelphia - were believed to be many of the same people who rode out the previous arctic blast this month, Maguire said.

The cold created a different kind of problem for low-income parents, who depend on schools and day-care centers to provide breakfast, lunch, and snacks to their children. When those facilities close on cold and snowy days, parents find themselves in trouble, because they must give their children food they hadn't expected to use.

"On days like today, the poor say, 'My goodness, I don't have enough food at home,' " said Steveanna Wynn, executive director of SHARE, which provides food to hundreds of pantries in Philadelphia.

"When people - rich or poor - are stuck home in cold weather, they eat," she said. But when you're poor, that food isn't easily replaced, she added.

Wynn said that the extreme temperatures would also affect the heating budgets of poor families, who have no choice but to use precious money on oil, gas, or electricity to stay warm. Paying for the utilities will affect next month's food budget. As a result, Wynn said, "food cupboards will be overrun in February."


twood@phillynews.com

610-313-8210

Contributing to this article were Inquirer staff writers Linda Loyd, Alfred Lubrano, Robert Moran, Paul Nussbaum, David O'Reilly, and Bob Warner.

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