Bucks County: Drama unfolds as storm hammers area

On Byron Drive in Lower Makefield Township, PA, Maureen Ehret feels lucky to be alive. Just as she was heading to her car, the tree in her yard totaled it on Feb. 5, 2014. ( APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer )
On Byron Drive in Lower Makefield Township, PA, Maureen Ehret feels lucky to be alive. Just as she was heading to her car, the tree in her yard totaled it on Feb. 5, 2014. ( APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer )
Posted: February 07, 2014

About 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday, Maureen Ehret, a married mother of three who lives on quiet Byron Lane in Lower Makefield, felt like going out and grabbing a cup of coffee.

Her Acura MDX was parked just in front of her garage. As she raised the garage door, she noticed that snow was coming down in heavy clumps.

"That wasn't right," she thought.

It had stopped snowing long ago and was now mostly raining.

She paused.

It was a pause that saved her life.

The snow that was raining down came from the upper branches of an old tulip poplar tree. She watched as it fell, ever so slowly and quietly, onto the front row of her car. There was no crack or crashing.

The ramrod straight tree that used to reach four stories into the sky just upended from its shallow roots, flattening the windshield and leaving shards of glass on the driveway.

Two hours after her brush with death, Ehret was surprisingly calm as she surveyed the damage to her car.

"I hesitated and because I hesitated I didn't get into the car," she said. "That could have been me."

Ehret, who is in her fifties and works in the alumni development office at the Lawrenceville School in New Jersey, said just last summer she and her husband, John, had five mature trees removed from their property. They feared losing one in the next big storm.

Ehret called her husband at work to tell him what happened.

"You know those trees we had taken out last summer," she said. "We missed one."

The tree also took out the front porch of their two-story home. Earlier in the day, a neighbor's tree had crashed into the back yard.

Ehret took it in strides.

"All of this can be fixed," she said. The poplar, she repeated, "would have landed on me."

Meanwhile, in Yardley ...

In the late morning Wednesday, the lobby of the Hampton Inn on Stony Hill Road in Yardley was dark except for the gas fireplace and faux flickering candles on dining tables.

Front office manager Walter Stroud carried in a box filled with cartons of soup for his housekeeping staff. He picked it up that morning from a place near his home in Northeast Philadelphia, knowing that they would be hungry and nothing would be open in the area. "They're working hard," Stroud said.

Even without electricity, the hotel had guests coming and going. When the electricity went out in the morning, the staff handed out flashlights to the 60 or so guests.

Karen Smallen, 63, a high school art teacher from Lower Makefield, was checking in. During Hurricane Sandy, she and her husband lost electricity in their nearby home for six days.

"I'm not doing that again," Smallen said. "It's cold out there."

Her school was closed Wednesday. Even though the hotel was also without electricity, the staff was rigging up a generator and hoped to have power back. Smallen left to take her five-year-old beagle to the vet.

"He'll be better off," she said.

Smallen said her neighborhood was without electricity since the early morning. "A lot of trees are down," she said.

Shanae Williams, the front desk agent, kept the mood upbeat as she passed out flashlights. She lives in Southwest Philadelphia with her grandmother and an elderly aunt but spent the night at the hotel, knowing the morning commute would be difficult.

"We're staying in good spirits especially at a time like this," Williams smiled.

Jill Gosztonyi, 46, of Bethlehem, was feeling particularly triumphant on Wednesday morning. The night before she had convinced her family - including her husband, son, daughter and daughter's best friend - to drive from their home in Bethlehem and spend the night in Yardley in order to catch a flight to Orlando Wednesday.

On Friday, her daughter, 23-year-old Sarah, is graduating from the Full Sail University in Winter Park, Fla.

"You only graduate from college once," Gosztonyi said, "and I didn't want her to miss it."

All Tuesday, Gosztonyi fretted as the weather report for the Lehigh Valley kept getting worse. At least in Yardley, she thought, the ice would not be as bad, and they would have a head start in getting to the Trenton airport. When everyone got home that night, she told them, "Get dressed, we're leaving. Everyone agreed it was a good idea."

The family arrived in Yardley at about midnight.

At noon Wednesday, they headed into the car for the airport. Their flight miraculously wasn't canceled.

Sarah, who works as a server in the poker room of the Sands Casino and is getting her degree in music business, wore a tiara. It was her birthday, and she couldn't wait to board the 2:10 p.m. flight.

"This was definitely the best option," she said.

Warming Center

The Red Cross said that a warming center is available at Maple Point Middle School at 2250 Langhorne Yardley Rd, Langhorne.

A spokesman for the Red Cross said that anyone going to the warming station will be provided food, drinks and comfort items such as soap and a toothbrush.

If shelter needs to be provided overnight, pillows, extra blankets and cots will be available.

Residents are encouraged to bring what makes them comfortable, particularly if they have children. Things such as games and books are great, but the Red Cross asks people to limit the amount of items they bring.

Residents should also bring their medications and paper copies of prescriptions in case they need to be refilled, the Red Cross said.

Pets are welcome at the warming centers. They will be kept in a separate area at or near the schools. Follow @dcschrader, @redcrossphilly and @telesara for immediate Red Cross updates.

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