HomeNewsThe aftermath of Hurricane Irene

The aftermath of Hurricane Irene

It seems we got off easy during our weekend with Irene.

Philadelphia and its ’burbs did get all those major and minor woes that should be expected from a hurricane — power outages, felled trees, cars crushed and buildings damaged by falling trees, flooding and rescues from cars stuck in flooded streets.

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Up and down the East Coast, Irene claimed lives. In this city, however, tragedies were almost non-existent. One man died in an auto accident in the Northeast at about 9 p.m. Saturday, but police have not determined if it was linked to the storm.

Police are sure, however, that high speed was involved in the one-car crash on the 7600 block of Algon Ave. that killed Mario Faria, 39, of the 6800 block of Algon Ave. and critically injured a 47-year-old woman who was his passenger. Police did not release the passenger’s name. The accident is still under investigation.

There was plenty of warning, so there was plenty of preparation for Irene. Forecasts called for 6 to 9 inches of rain, along with high winds.

By Friday afternoon, it was obvious city residents were taking the approaching storm seriously. Anyone who waited until then to buy flashlights, batteries, milk, bread or sump pumps probably was out of luck. Anyone who waited until then to gas up a car probably was in line at the pumps for a long time. File that under “things to do better next time.”

What was well done, if not overdone, was execution of plans to keep people off the roads and at home.

Ball games were scratched. SEPTA canceled service as of early Sunday morning. Streets were closed. Sump pumps were set up. Windows were boarded up.

Philadelphia and its citizens were ready, however, for more trouble than they got.

The city had three emergency shelters set up and was ready to help out many more than the few who came to them. In fact, by Sunday evening, the shelter at Abraham Lincoln High School and another in Roxborough were closed. Population at the Lincoln shelter topped off at 38 during the storm, the American Red Cross said.

The city deactivated its emergency operations center at 5 p.m. Sunday. By the time Irene blew out of town Sunday afternoon, the most common words being spoken were “very lucky.”

But not everybody was all that fortunate.

Some people lost power, saw water damage or saw cars or properties damaged by falling trees. Most of the city’s problems were in Manayunk, with its famously flooded Main Street, and in Southwest Philly.

Rain — 5.7 inches of it — and wind gusts caused some trees to fall. Anyone driving around the Northeast earlier this week didn’t have to look hard to see snapped saplings as well as some fine old trees stretched across streets or crushing cars, or both.

A few examples:

• Magee Avenue just east of Frankford Avenue had to be blocked off Monday because a huge tree had fallen across the roadway.

• Similarly, a good-size tree crushed two cars on the 4700 block of Oakland St. That street, too, was blocked off Monday.

• A tree on Aria Health’s Frankford campus on the 4900 block of Frankford Ave. was already in pieces on Monday afternoon.

• Another tree was down on PGW property at Castor Avenue and Hoffnagle Street.

In Philadelphia, 22,000 PECO customers had lost power. By Tuesday afternoon, only 700 were still without power, said Karen Muldoon Geus, a PECO spokeswoman. She expected those 700 to have power by Wednesday.

Flooding remained the big worry earlier this week. Both the Delaware and Schuylkill rivers are tidal, so waters surged up from Delaware Bay against their storm-swollen southbound currents. One man reported seeing big waves rolling north on the Delaware on Sunday.

Under Monday’s sunshine, it was easy to see where the Delaware had been. At a municipal parking lot at Delaware and Linden avenues, the river left a coating of debris that included big tree trunks more than 25 feet from its banks.

Paul Cohen of Rhawnhurst, who regularly fishes along the river next to that lot, said Monday afternoon that the river — brown and loaded with floating debris — still was about 6 or more feet into the park than it usually is.

On Tuesday, the National Weather Service continued to warn about flooding along the Delaware.

SEPTA resumed most services except for four regional rail lines by Monday, and almost all of them were operating in some fashion by Tuesday.

The Philadelphia Water Department said its water and sewer systems held up “admirably” during the storm, and that drinking water supply and quality were not affected. Flooding complaints were few. Four-hundred inlets were cleaned before the storm, and most sewers and inlets did what they were supposed to do except in low-lying areas near rivers and streams. PWD said its wastewater plants received not quite 1 billion gallons of storm water — more than twice the normal volume.

The department, according to a news release, pumped out properties on Main Street in Manayunk and assisted the Department of Streets in cleaning debris off Kelly, Martin Luther King and Lincoln drives.

In the Northeast on Sunday, Frankford Avenue was closed for a while near Ashburner Street because of a tree on SEPTA wires, and Woodhaven Road near Byberry Road was closed because of flooding.

The Philadelphia Gas Works reported no service interruptions.

“We’re all underground so we were OK,” said spokeswoman Melanie McCottry.

What did the preparations cost the city? Too soon to tell, but don’t think in small numbers. What was spent by the Red Cross, which set up shelters and is still working hard in the Northeast part of the country? Also too soon to say, but “it’s going to be in the millions,” said spokeswoman Sarah Smith.

Anyone who wants to help the Red Cross foot that bill can log on to redcrossphilly.org, call 1–800-RED-Cross or text REDCROSS to 90999.

And one more thing from the Red Cross: Irene swept a lot of blood drives off the calendar. If you can donate blood, make a point of it.

“The need for blood is huge,” Smith said. ••

Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215–354–3110 or jloftus@bsmphilly.com

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