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Politics & Government

PA Prepares for Storm, Impact on Pittsburgh Unclear

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In Eastern Pennsylvania schools are closed, transit services are shutting down and shelters are opened in anticipation of the dangerous winds and flooding promised by Hurricane Sandy.  In southwestern Pennsylvania local officials are on alert but it is still unclear what the megastorm will mean to the region.

Rain and high winds are a certainty and flooding of some sort is expected.  However, for now the biggest casualty seems to be Halloween Trick-or-Treating.  A hand full of communities have postponed their official door-to-door frivolity from Wednesday to Saturday.  Residents should check with their local municipality.

Somerset and the rest of the Laurel Highlands could see snow as a result of the storm.  The Pennsylvania Turnpike has gone into Weather Emergency mode.

State officials urged residents to stay off the roads and prepare to leave quickly if threatened by flood waters brought on by rainfall totals that could approach 10 inches on the other side of the Alleghenies by the time the massive storm is over.

In Philadelphia, mass transit service was shut down, all flights were canceled out of Philadelphia International Airport and Amtrak stopped service. PennDOT closed Interstate 95's Broad Street exit before daybreak Monday because it expected it to flood as conditions deteriorate.

Gov. Tom Corbett declared a state of emergency over the weekend in anticipation of storm damage while utility companies called in reinforcements to deal with what could be massive power outages.

Officials are warning residents of flood-prone areas — like those affected by the remnants of Hurricane Irene last year — to be ready to move.

Mayor Michael Nutter told WPVI-TV early Monday that shelters are open and ready to help those who have to get out.

"If you have not relocated, if you are in one of those areas, the time to go is now, because things are only going to deteriorate as time goes on," Nutter said.

"We're going to all have to hang in there together."

Many residents spent the weekend laying in provisions to ride out the storm, while residents of houseboats docked in the shadow of the Benjamin Franklin Bridge battened down the hatches.

"We're going to be as safe here as we would be anywhere because we're going to be as high as the water gets, plus we've done the prep work," said Howard Molt, one of about 20 people who live year-round at the Delaware River marina, where neighbors were helping each other tie down their boats Sunday.

Hans Eriksson, 35, and his wife had spent 2½ years sailing the Caribbean, so they hoped to weather the storm with their 19-month-old daughter at the marina, which is somewhat protected by condominiums on either side.

"If it starts looking dangerous, obviously we'll get off the boat," Eriksson said.

The storm was expected to result from Hurricane Sandy coming ashore late Monday or early Tuesday, most likely in New Jersey, and colliding with a wintry storm moving in from the west and cold air streaming down from the Arctic. Forecasters warned that the resulting megastorm could wreak havoc over 800 miles from the East Coast to the Great Lakes.

"This is not a typical storm," Corbett said Sunday. "It could very well be historic in scope and in nature and in magnitude because of the widespread anticipated power outages, flooding and potential major wind damage to the commonwealth."

President Barack Obama early Monday signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania that will allow state officials to request federal funding and other storm assistance.

The American Red Cross opened evacuation centers in the Philadelphia area, with more than 250 people staying at nine shelters in the area as of 6 a.m. Spokesman Dave Schrader said five more shelters would open Monday.

At The Fresh Grocer in west Philadelphia, hospital worker Tayna Lindsey bought nearly $200 worth of food to keep her family of seven content in case she has to stay at work.

"If my kids are home, they need to eat. I have a big family," said Lindsey, 38, a medical assistant at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.

Utilities reported only scattered outages as of Monday morning, when rain and winds began to pick up.

PECO Energy, the commonwealth's largest electric and gas utility, said Sunday it has 300 electric line crews and 150 tree-trimming crews from as far away as Illinois and Mississippi ready to go.

"This is definitely what we call an all-hands-on-deck effort," PECO spokeswoman Karen Muldoon Geus said.

Muldoon Geus said she expects some customers to be without electricity for multiple days, and shutting down power to certain areas is likely in areas with heavy flooding.

In portions of western Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for areas that could get more than two inches of rain Monday and Tuesday, causing some flooding along small streams or where drainage is poor. Snow was expected later in the week.

The Pennsylvania National Guard has told about 16,000 members to be ready to deploy for a storm response if activated.