Ice storm slams Chester County; 400-cot shelter opens

Red Cross volunteers set up 50 cots at Lionville Middle School for Chester County residents left without heat or power after the ice storm. The school was without utility power as well, but was keeping the emergency generators running.
Red Cross volunteers set up 50 cots at Lionville Middle School for Chester County residents left without heat or power after the ice storm. The school was without utility power as well, but was keeping the emergency generators running. (MICHAEL BRYANT/ Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 07, 2014

Update: The Red Cross opened a 400-cot emergency shelter late Wednesday in West Chester that could be expanded to hold up to 1,500 people if needed, according to a spokesman from the organization.

The shelter, which opened at 9 p.m., is at the West Chester University field house, 855 S. New St. Red Cross spokesman Dave Schrader said state officials decided to open the shelter, which the Red Cross is operating, anticipating that many people who spend Wednesday night at home without heat will be looking for somewhere warm to stay Thursday if their power has not yet returned.

The Red Cross is operating two other shelters in Chester County, where at one point Wednesday nearly 90 percent of homes and businesses were without power. As of about 9 p.m., 72 people had registered to stay at the Exton shelter, at Lionville Middle School, and six had checked in at the West Grove shelter, at Avon Grove High School.

Schrader said state officials were considering combining all three county shelters at the West Chester field house. He said that decision would be made Thursday.

The Chester County shelters are open to residents of other counties, Schrader said.

Ted Bleecker was spreading salt outside his Charlestown Township home around 7 a.m. Wednesday when he heard one of his large sycamore trees crack.

"I just ran inside, first instinct, to make sure everybody was away from that side of the house," Bleecker said.

About an hour later, a limb crashed through the ceiling of his 11-year-old daughter's bedroom, leaving two holes about four inches wide.

"We put down some buckets," he said. "And I already put a claim in with the insurance company."

Thousands of others across the region were no doubt reaching for the buckets, the salt, and their insurer's phone number Wednesday. But the ice storm seemed to punish Chester County most intently.

By midday, nearly nine out of 10 homes or businesses in Chester County had lost power, officials said. Tree limbs and wires littered roads, and restaurants and stores stayed dark.

"Even when we had the hurricanes that came through, we weren't even near this number," said Bill Turner, the county's emergency planning coordinator. "It's pretty astronomical."

By evening, the number of outages had dropped slightly, from about 180,000 to 159,000.

Shelters and warming centers opened in Exton, Phoenixville, West Chester, Coatesville, and West Grove. Officials expected they might need to open more as the week progressed.

In Avondale, a 1,200-person borough on the county's western edge, at least half the town had no power. Even the nearby Walmart was closed.

"When that shuts down, you know it's serious," said Everett Butcher.

He was out buying cheesesteaks for his wife and daughter at Earl's Sub Shop, one of the few merchants up and running.

"They're under the blankets keeping warm, while I'm out here getting food," Butcher said. He was one of a dozen or so patrons.

Police in neighboring New Garden Township said power outages were patchy, affecting some neighborhoods and not others.

A portion of busy Baltimore Pike was closed for about four hours but was reopened by 11 a.m.

Just past West Chester, a tree closed a stretch of Route 322 at Buck Road, forcing motorists to detour.

And in West Chester, Dave Moffett, 49, was forced to cover his minivan with a tarp after a large branch from an oak tree impaled the roof and windshield in his driveway on North Franklin Street.

Turner said the county's priority was to restore electricity to nursing homes, hospitals, and residences where individuals have medical equipment that needs power.

The government services center on Westtown Road in West Goshen Township, where its emergency operation center is located, ran on a generator.

Turner was unable to estimate when power would be restored.

"It's the perfect situation of factors," he said, "that came together to make a real big mess for us."


tnadolny@phillynews.com

610-313-8205 @TriciaNadolny

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