Storm leaves Northeast soggy, windblown and dark; more than 500,000 without power at its peak

By Bruce Shipkowski, AP
Sunday, March 14, 2010

Storm leaves Northeast soggy, windblown and dark

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — Utility crews pushed through fallen trees and windblown debris to reach downed power lines Sunday, working to restore electricity to hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses as strong winds and heavy rain that wreaked havoc in parts of the Northeast pushed on into New England.

The storm, which battered parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Connecticut on Saturday with gusts of up to 70 mph, struck about two weeks after heavy snow and hurricane-force winds left more than a million customers in the Northeast in the dark. More than a half-million customers in the region lost electricity at the peak of Saturday’s storm, and roughly 500,000 were waiting for power to be restored Sunday morning.

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

In Jackson Township, N.J., Dave Thomas still had electricity, even though the storm brought down two large trees and several smaller ones in his yard Saturday night.

“We were sitting at home, hearing the rain, then all of a sudden there was heavy rain, heavy winds storming in,” Thomas, 42, said Sunday. “It just seemed to come out of nowhere.”

Traveling was problematic on the rails and in the air. More than 500 passengers on a New Jersey Transit train were stranded for six to seven hours because of power supply problems, spokesman Dan Stessel said Sunday. Amtrak service between Philadelphia and New York was suspended for hours before limited service was restored, spokesman Cliff Cole said.

Lois Glassman, 62, of Manhattan boarded an Amtrak Acela train in Washington D.C. at around 4 p.m. Saturday. The train traveled seamlessly through Philadelphia but slowed outside a station in Edison, N.J., at about 6:30 p.m. Then the waiting began.

The conductor on the train kept the passengers updated, Glassman said, first blaming switching problem and power issues. The train didn’t begin making its way toward New York until after 11 p.m., Glassman said.

“I’ve had a weary day,” Glassman said.

Flights at Newark Liberty International Airport were delayed by as many as four hours Saturday, and some flights bound for New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport had to be redirected to Boston’s Logan International Airport.

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 the wait could last until Monday for some customers, spokesman Fred Maher said.

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.

In Atlantic City, the horizontal arm of a boom crane plunged 47 floors at the Revel Casino construction site. Debris went flying and crashed through the driver’s side window of a police cruiser; the officer suffered minor injuries.

One person was killed and three others were injured in Westport, Conn., after a tree fell on a car Saturday night during the storm, police said.

Police in the New York City suburb of Teaneck were investigating whether two people found dead Saturday night were killed by a falling tree. The tree took down power lines as it fell. Chief Robert Wilson told The Record of Bergen County that police believe the two were walking on the sidewalk.

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, 58, of Auburn, N.Y., was found dead in his 2009 Hyundai sedan. His wife, Mary, also 58, escaped from the passenger side.

Two condominium complexes near the construction site were evacuated and several area roads were briefly closed. A shelter was set up at the Atlantic City Convention Center. The wind also caused at least two homes to collapse and damaged other homes and buildings.

“This is not where I expected to be tonight,” said Jerome Martin, who was evacuated from his nearby condo to the Atlantic City Convention Center. “I’d rather be in my home, but that’s not going to happen.”

Martin said he was told it could be days before he could return home.

Pittsburgh had braced for what meteorologists were calling the worst potential for flooding since remnants of Hurricane Ivan swept through the city in September 2004. Officials worried that a forecast of warm weather and several days of rain would cause deep snow in the mountains to melt, prompting rivers to swell.

But officials downgraded some of their river crest projections Saturday in western Pennsylvania as rainfall appeared to be less than was projected.

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 Saturday night and Sunday. A coastal flood advisory was in effect for the Jersey Shore.

In northern New England, a wind advisory and flood watch were in effect for extreme southern Maine and parts of New Hampshire.

At least 4 inches of rain fell Saturday in parts of New Jersey, and an additional 1 to 2 inches was expected through early Sunday.

Associated Press Writer Bob Lentz in Philadelphia and AP Hockey Writer Ira Podell in Uniondale, N.Y., contributed to this report.

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