Outages fall below 50,000 for first time

Kevin Wilson, from the NSTAR utility out of Boston, checking the attachments on a power line on Devon State Road on Friday. About 2,600 line workers have been supplied by utilities from as far as Canada and Arkansas.
Kevin Wilson, from the NSTAR utility out of Boston, checking the attachments on a power line on Devon State Road on Friday. About 2,600 line workers have been supplied by utilities from as far as Canada and Arkansas. (DAVID SWANSON / Staff Photographer)

But many face several more days without power.

Posted: February 10, 2014

Update 1:30 p.m. Sunday - Peco reports 49,200 customers without power, 22,100 in Chester County

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Earlier Story

The number of households throughout the region without power dipped below 100,000 Saturday evening for the first time since a devastating midweek ice storm brought down trees and branches and took out power lines throughout the Philadelphia suburbs.

Still, about one in five households in Chester County remained without electricity, and about 82,000 Peco customers overall were still without power as of 10 p.m. Saturday.

Thousands of utility workers scrambled to repair the system. In Abington - where about 3,600 were still without power at 10 p.m. Saturday - a half-dozen Peco trucks sat parked outside a residential development near Old York Road in the afternoon. At a Target down the road, locals spoke of frigid nights without heat or electricity.

Kevin and Catie Junge of Bryn Athyn were still without power about 5 p.m. Saturday. As they stocked up on nonperishables, they said they had spent the last several days warming up at friends' homes, returning at night to their house, where the temperature had dropped to the mid-40s inside.

The Junges had dealt with similar conditions during Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

"But it's a lot colder now," Kevin Junge said.

Catie Junge said she had resorted to sleeping in their year-old daughter's crib to help the baby stay warm. Peco representatives had told them to expect power by Sunday.

In Malvern, where nearly 100 percent of residents lost electricity at some point, large, mature trees still blocked streets or hung on wires. Branches by the thousands littered the shoulders of roads, driveways, and front lawns.

'A colonial person'

Barbara Leighton, 68, whose power was still out Saturday afternoon, said she had been making the best of it, using her gas stove to cook. At night, she would burrow into her bed to try to stay warm.

"I pretended I was a colonial person and covered my head," Leighton said.

By Saturday morning, about 74 percent of Malvern residents were without power. But by evening, that number had decreased to about 1 percent as Peco crews fanned out to bring homes back on the grid.

The state Public Utility Commission said it would monitor power-restoration efforts and conduct a review - part of standard procedure - once those efforts were completed.

"To date, Peco had implemented many of the recommendations that resulted from Hurricanes Irene and Sandy. The review also will look to see how those recommendations worked," a PUC statement said.

By 10 p.m. Saturday, Peco said, about 39,000 customers were without power in Chester County, about 18.9 percent of its 206,200 households there.

Montgomery County had about 22,000 customers, about 7.4 percent, without power at 10 p.m., down from 42,500 late Saturday morning. But there appeared to be a temporary increase again late Saturday night, with about 330 customers affected.

Peco representatives said that they had not heard of any widespread losses of power after it was restored, but that anyone affected should notify the utility as soon as possible.

Bucks County had about 16,500 customers without power, about 7.3 percent of Peco's customers there. Delaware County had about 3,500 customers without power, about 1.6 percent of customers. Fewer than 1,000 customers in Philadelphia lacked power Saturday night.

Peco spokesman Greg Smore said most customers should have service restored by the end of the weekend. But, he warned, some in hard-hit areas of Chester and Montgomery Counties might not have power until early in the week.

Thousands of customers were brought online throughout the day Saturday.

At the peak of the outage, 715,000 customers were without power.

Peco ranked the event as the largest winter power outage in its history. It was second overall only to Hurricane Sandy, the company said.

More than 5,000 workers, half of them from out of state, were clearing downed trees and repairing wires.

Workers came from as far away as Arkansas, Chicago, and Canada, Smore said. "We're all working around the clock to restore service. We definitely have put together a massive field effort."

On Saturday, crews from New Jersey's PSE&G joined the effort. The utility sent more than 100 workers, who were expected to work 16-hour shifts for the next three to five days, the company said in a news release.

The ice storm presented challenges that left the state's power grid and infrastructure more damaged than Hurricane Sandy had, state officials said Friday.

Glenn Cannon, director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, said when power-line poles that blew down during the hurricane were fixed, that restored power to large areas.

But in this storm, Cannon said, there are "many more spot repairs" to downed wires that feed power to fewer buildings.

"There are literally thousands of places like that," he said.

'The fun part'

Two shelters, in West Chester and in Hatboro, served 96 people overnight Friday into Saturday, the Red Cross of Southeastern Pennsylvania said. The Hatboro shelter was closed Saturday morning, and remaining residents were bused to the West Chester site.

The West Chester shelter had 67 people overnight, down from more than 180 Thursday night. It will likely remain open at least through Monday morning, the Red Cross said.

On Saturday afternoon, about two dozen adults and children were spending their time at the shelter reading, sleeping, and playing games.

"Keeping the kids busy is the fun part," said Brendan Barakat, 21, a senior economics major at West Chester University who has been volunteering to help the 40 or so youngsters who were calling the shelter home. There were kickball and wallball for some, Play-Doh, puzzles, and puppets for others.

At its peak, about 190 residents took advantage of the services at the shelter, according to the Red Cross.

After a few days without heat in his Coatesville apartment, Bro Cooper didn't want to bother friends or family for a place to stay, so he called 911 looking for help.

The Red Cross "took me in," Cooper said. "They're good people."

Most of the remaining shelter population is elderly or has special needs, spokesman Dave Schrader said Saturday morning. The shelter has bathrooms, showers, and food; pets are welcome but are housed about a half-mile away from the main area.

"If you are cold and need a place, don't stick it out anymore," he said. "The shelter is there for people to use, so please use it. Four days in the cold is a lot.


INSIDE

The towns that remain most affected. Graphic, A19.

5,100 utility workers try

to restore electricity in the area. A18.


jlai@phillynews.com

856-779-3220

@elaijuh

Inquirer staff writers Harold Brubaker and Tricia Naldony contributed to this article.

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