Northeast copes with flooding and power outages as rain takes up where blizzards left off

By Bruce Shipkowski, AP
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Post-snow, Northeast mops up from wind-driven rain

EGG HARBOR CITY, N.J. — Last month, the Northeast was smothered by blizzards. Now, it’s waterlogged by torrential rains.

The region mopped up Sunday following a bout with high wind and heavy rains that uprooted trees, downed power lines and flooded creeks and rivers. At least seven people died in storm-related accidents, and hundreds of thousands were without electricity.

More than a half-million customers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut lost electricity at the peak of Saturday’s storm, which carried wind gusts of up to 70 mph. The storm came about two weeks after heavy snow and hurricane-force winds left more than a million customers in the Northeast in the dark.

“I spent most of the past few months clearing snow and ice out my driveway, sidewalks, front walks, and now we’re picking up all these branches,” Jack Alexander said as he and his family worked to clear debris from the front yard of their Egg Harbor City home. “It seems like we’ve had every type of weather event you could have this winter — I’m almost afraid to see what else can happen.”

Farther north in Jackson Township, drivers were negotiating stretches of flooded roadways and detours caused by fallen trees and accidents.

“Fortunately it’s a Sunday, so there’s not as much traffic to deal with,” said Vanna Hayes, a New York City resident who was in the area visiting relatives. “We wanted to go to Atlantic City last night, but we put it off because it looked like a monsoon was happening down there.”

Hundreds of people remained out of their homes in the northern Jersey community Bound Brook, where flooding is common.

Among those in a shelter were the Malik family, including eldest son Norbert, who celebrated his ninth birthday Sunday. His mom said he had cried Saturday night because he was worried the storm would ruin his celebration. Instead, he said it was the best birthday he ever had.

“I woke up, and I got to ride in a police boat, and then a truck and a small bus,” said Norbert, accompanied by a new friend he’d met at the shelter. “I came here and met all my friends and got to help the Red Cross people mix iced tea.”

About 400 Atlantic City, N.J., residents remained displaced for a second day Sunday as crews tried to take down a crane that snapped and twisted at the Revel Entertainment casino construction site, sending debris crashing through a window of a police cruiser but not hurting anyone.

The displaced residents live in a condominium complex and two apartment buildings near the site, and they were ordered to leave their homes due to safety concerns. They may not be able to return until Tuesday.

In Manhattan, Broadway’s sidewalks and trash cans were littered with hundreds of shattered umbrellas.

“Last night was wicked,” said Ron Recoskie, heading out for brunch and shopping on the Upper West Side. “I’ve never seen so many umbrellas on the street.”

The New York Police Department said it received its second-highest volume of emergency calls in a 24-hour period during the storm: 65,000 calls, most related to the weather, between Friday night and Saturday night, behind only the 96,000 calls received on the first day of a massive 2003 blackout. The NYPD normally receives about 38,000 calls in 24 hours around Saturday.

In the New York-New Jersey area, airlines reported delays and scattered cancellations because of the bad weather.

At the storm’s peak, more than 265,000 customers in the New York City area and 235,000 customers in New Jersey were without power. The Philadelphia area reported 70,000 customers without electricity, while more than 80,000 customers in Connecticut sat in the dark.

PECO, an electric company serving the Philadelphia area, had assistance from crews from western Pennsylvania and Michigan, but some customers may have to wait until Monday for power to be restored, spokesman Fred Maher said.

Falling trees proved to be a deadly hazard.

A New Jersey woman was killed and three others were injured in Westport, Conn., after a tree fell on a car Saturday night during the storm, police said. Another woman died when a tree struck her as she was walking in Greenwich, Conn., they said.

In the suburb of Teaneck, N.J., two neighbors were killed by a falling tree as they headed home from a prayer service at a synagogue. The men, Ovadia Mussaffi, president of the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck, and Lawrence Krause, were struck by a large oak tree, Bergen County prosecutor John L. Molinelli said Sunday.

In Hartsdale, N.Y., another suburb, a man was killed when a large tree crushed the roof of his car and entangled it in live wires. Brendan McGrath, of Auburn, N.Y., was found dead in his sedan. His wife escaped from the passenger side.

In Rhode Island, an off-duty state trooper died early Sunday after his car hydroplaned in standing water left from the storm, state police said. James Dougherty Jr., a detective sergeant, died in West Greenwich.

In New Hampshire, a large pine tree fell on a car traveling on Interstate 93 on Sunday afternoon, killing a man and injuring his wife and child, state police said. Marco Cinquini of Sanbornton, 42, died in Manchester.

The storm also left damaged buildings in its wake.

In Uniondale, N.Y., the aging Nassau Coliseum lost three pieces of its aluminum facade about 90 minutes before the start of the New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders National Hockey League game.

Strong winds fueled a fire that started in a home in Ocean Grove, N.J., and quickly spread. At least four homes were destroyed, and a historic inn was damaged.

Flood warnings were issued for rivers in northern Jersey, including the Ramapo River at Mahwah and Saddle River at Lodi, where minor to moderate flooding was expected. A coastal flood advisory was in effect for the Jersey Shore.

In suburban New York City, the storm caused major erosion at Jones Beach, where the entire sand area was underwater Sunday, and all trails at Long Island’s state parks had to be closed because at least 100 trees had fallen.

In northern New England, a wind advisory and flood watch were in effect for extreme southern Maine and parts of New Hampshire. And in Boston, the transit authority shut down a large stretch of the Green Line rail because of rising water on the Muddy River.

Associated Press writers Karen Matthews in New York and Samantha Henry in Bound Brook, N.J., contributed to this report.

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