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Politics & Government

Mayor Says Pittsburgh's Prepared for Hurricane Sandy

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The felled trees, downed wires, power outages and possible flooding expected as a result of Hurricane Sandy have prompted Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl to warn certain city employees of long hours in the days to come.

The mayor said Monday that city forestry crews will be on 24-hour shifts to remove any fallen trees, while other public works employees are prepared to take on 12-hour work cycles. He said the city has prepared for the oncoming storm under a new emergency operations plan he signed Friday.

"City crews, including our Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, spent the weekend cleaning catchbasins and culverts," said Ravenstahl. "The Department of Public Works readied our snow plows, and all of our bureaus prepared personnel plans in advance of the storm. Our swiftwater response teams have now been trained and they are ready in the event that they'll be needed over the next couple of days."

The city's three swiftwater response teams are made up of firefighters, police officers, and paramedics who've been specially trained to rescue people from flash flood situations. Pittsburgh Public Safety Director Michael Huss said the initiative started in response to an August 2011 incident in which three people drowned in a flash flood on Washington Boulevard in the East End. Huss said all public safety personnel have basic water rescue training, in addition to the three specialized teams of four to six people.

"We've trained over 1600 public safety employees in swiftwater rescue," said Huss. "We've deployed over a thousand personal flotation devices, water rescue throw bags, so not only are they trained, but they're equipped in all the police cars, firetrucks, [and] ambulances to respond to anybody who may become trapped in swift-moving water."

Ravenstahl said city residents should limit travelling if possible. He said citizens could help public safety crews by staying up-to-date on flash flood areas and other emergency situations.

The city's 3-1-1 telephone line will be accepting non-emergency calls during its normal weekday hours of 8:00 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., although Ravenstahl said the hours could be extended if necessary. Ravenstahl said emergencies should be reported to the Emergency Operations Center by calling 9-1-1.

Ravenstahl said the city will open certain senior and community centers to the public in case of power outages, although he said he couldn't specify because the precise buildings to be opened depend on the locations of the blackouts.

Because of the high winds and heavy rain of the storm the Pittsburgh Public School District has cancled Tuesday's classes.  Several suburban districts have done the same.  Halloween trick-or-treating in most municipalities has also been postponed until Saturday, November 3, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.