Area residents braced for high winds and heavy rains as Superstorm Sandy approached Monday, with people stocking up on groceries, school districts delaying or canceling classes this morning and many communities postponing Halloween trick-or-treating.
“We’re taking it very seriously,” said Jeff Yates, director of the Washington County Department of Public Safety. “Don’t take this lightly. This is a significant event that just may be the event of a lifetime.
“People really need to be concerned about staying safe and being careful,” Yates said.
Washington County commissioners issued a disaster emergency declaration Monday in advance of the storm to be able to quickly apply for federal or state aid if needed. Greene County commissioners also issued an emergency declaration and planned to set up shelters as needed, as well as Washington Council.
Trinity Area School District canceled classes and most other school districts called for two-hour delays this morning. Classes at California University of Pennsylvania were canceled Monday night and this morning and Community College of Allegheny County canceled classes today at all campuses. State offices in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, and in the eastern part of the state will be closed today and driver’s license centers are closed.
Sandy made landfall in New Jersey Monday night.
The Red Cross estimated as many as 60 million people in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast could be affected by the storm.
Gov. Tom Corbett declared a state of emergency for the state over the weekend. Monday morning, he issued a request for federal assistance that President Barack Obama confirmed later that day.
The Pennsylvania National Guard was activated as well. Task Force West, located in Washington and responsible for about 400 active troops in the area, was placed in charge of overseeing emergency readiness in the southwestern part of the state in conjunction with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. Forces out of Scranton and Philadelphia already had been dispatched to the eastern part of the state to assist storm response.
“The time to prepare is coming to an end,” Staff Sgt. Matt Jones of the Pennsylvania National Guard said Monday. “At some point it’s more important to stay home and stay safe than to go out and get that last loaf of bread.”
Jones said caution goes a long way in staying out of harm’s way.
“If you see a puddle you think you might be able to drive through, it’s often better to turn around instead of getting stuck,” Jones said. “People are their own best first-responders if they can keep out of danger.”
Speed limits were lowered and vehicle restrictions put in place on a number of highways and the Turnpike in Eastern and Southcentral Pennsylvania.
Monday evening, the National Weather Service issued a minor flood warning for the Monongahela River near Charleroi from late tonight through Wednesday morning or until further notice. As many as 3 or more inches of rain were expected to fall by daybreak today, which will create significant rises on the Mon and take it from normal levels Monday to near flood stage of 28 feet or above in Monongahela by early Wednesday, the service announced Monday. The service said backwater flooding could occur along Pigeon Creek at Park Avenue in Monongahela.
Additionally, the National Weather Service issued a flood warning Monday afternoon for urban areas and along small streams across the region, including Washington and Greene counties. The warning expires at 11:45 a.m. today in Southwestern Pennsylvania, parts of Ohio and Northern West Virginia, which had received more an an inch of rain Monday, the service said.
Urban areas may experience significant street flooding as leaves may clog storm drains, the announcement said.
The National Weather Service also issued a high wind warning to Washington and surrounding counties effective from noon Monday through midnight tonight. High winds are expected with gusts up to about 60 mph.
Yates said the largest threat in Western Pennsylvania is high winds, which have the capacity to overturn trees and cause power outages in the area.
“You need to plan ahead and think about potential needs and self-sufficiency,” Yates said.
Yates suggested those with special medical needs make contingency plans for powering devices such as oxygen concentrators.
Electric generators are a good way to provide electricity to a home affected by a power outage, but they come with their own dangers. Those using generators were reminded to keep them outside a safe distance away from the house to prevent carbon monoxide poisoning.
Other tips for surviving a long power outage is to keep cellphones plugged in and charged before losing electricity. Filling large bags or plastic containers with water and placing them in the freezer helps keep food cold longer and provides extra drinking water should that utility become compromised.
There are a number of emergency smartphone applications available. A Red Cross app offers tips on preparedness and directions to shelter locations, an offline application called “Disaster Readiness” offers survival tips for multiple scenarios and a “Red Panic Button” allows users to send GPS location to emergency contacts.
Officials were reminding people to be good neighbors.
“If you have neighbors who are elderly, you should check on them to see if everything is fine,” Yates said.
The storm also disrupted local Halloween trick-or-treating in a number of communities. Most municipalities that were planning Wednesday night trick-or-treating moved it to Saturday.
“We decided to postpone until Saturday,” said Darla Protch, manager for Midway Borough. “There’s supposed to be a large downpour, so I doubt if kids would be out in that anyway.”
At the Tanger Outlet shopping complex, some stores were busy preparing for the storm before an early closing at 6 p.m. Monday. At Aéropostale, workers had placed plywood over the glass windows in the storefront.
“A lot of people think we’re not open,” said Brooke Kelly, Aéropostale sales lead. “There’s a note on the door, but I think a lot of people are confused.”