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Format: 04/25/2014
Format: 04/25/2014


Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Area struggles to recover from paralyzing snow storm

Tuesday, February 9th, 2010

By Michael A. Fuoco and Karen Kane, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Western Pennsylvania was trying to recover this afternoon from a historic snow storm that buried roadways, shut down airports and mass transit and dragged down trees and power lines, prompting counties to declare disaster emergencies.

The dangerous snowstorm extended throughout the state, and Gov. Ed Rendell this morning declared a disaster emergency. The declaration allows officials to bypass bid and contract procedures to deal with the emergency. Pennsylvania National Guard forces have been deployed to help state police, Gov. Rendell said.

Shortly before noon today, all flight operations were suspended until further notice at both Pittsburgh International Airport and Allegheny County Airport. Pittsburgh International resumed operations around 8 p.m.

Earlier, officials hoped to have the ramps and runways operational by noon, but it became clear as the the morning progressed that such a timetable was unrealistic given the rate of snow accumulation, she said. Snow depth at the airport reached 19 inches this morning.

Earlier, a supervisor at the Allegheny County dispatch center said snowfalls exceeding 17 inches in combination with downed power lines combined to make numerous roadways -- including primary and secondary roads -- impassable.

Snowfall stopped around noon, providing some respite for crews that had been working around the clock trying to clear roads. Downtown seemed surreal with few vehicles or pedestrians--and the people walking were doing so in the middle of roadways. A stillness permeated the scene as three men walked down the middle of the Boulevard of the Allies videotaping the blanket of white as a city Public Works truck spread salt.

City Public Works crews were focusing on clearing primary streets. More than 60 plows were out on the road in addition to 10 crews who were assisting in tree removal with the help of city firefighters.

Mayor Luke Ravenstahl was in the Laurel Mountains celebrating his 30th birthday today with family and friends.

"We got up early this morning and tried to make the drive home, but we weren't successful," Mayor Ravenstahl said ina press release. "We tried again a little bit ago, but it just isn't safe out there.

"I'm monitoring the situation by phone and relying on our professional public works and safety personnel who are out at the emergency operations center. I remain anxious to get back home, and will be leaving as soon as conditions improve."

He urged residents to stay safe in their homes during the weather emergency.

About 8,000 residences were without power with the hardest hit neighborhoods being Beltzhoover, South Side and Beechview.

Earlier this morning, Sgt. Leo O'Neill of Pittsburgh Zone 6/traffic unit called the situation "hideous."

"Trees are down everywhere. There are trucks that can't move that are backing up traffic. It's a nightmare," the sergeant said.

He advised motorists to stay off the road for their own sake as well as others'. "Salt trucks can't do what they're supposed to do if people are on the road and getting stuck,'' he said.

His advice was echoed by Allegheny County Emergency Services which called on all non-essential and non-emergency vehicles to remain off of roadways to allow public works crews, power companies and emergency responders to conduct their recovery work.

The Pittsburgh Bureau of Police issued an advisory about 9:30 a.m. noting that response times for 911 calls make take a little longer than usual because police and first responder vehicles are likewise hampered by the extreme weather conditions. Calls are being prioritized, meaning non-emergency calls for service will take longer for a response than on a normal day, spokeswoman Diane Richard said.

In Westmoreland County, a disaster emergency was declared because of the snowfall and the resultant downed trees that snapped electrical wires causing widespread power outages.

"If you're not essential, there's no need for you to go out. Spend some time with your family," advised EOC Supervisor Clayton Moore. "We have plow trucks stuck, tractor trailers buried all over the place, and we've were searching for snowmobiles to rescue people stuck on the turnpike."

Washington County EOC reported a similar situation with very heavy snowfall, downed trees and power lines and many unpassable roads, although main arteries remained open.

In Beaver County, emergency crews were called this morning to two hours fires, one on Allola Drive in New Sewickley Township and another on Martin Road in Hanover Township. No injuries were immediately reported.

"Our roads are still impassable in most of the county," said Eric Brewer, crew chief with the Beaver County Emergency Services dispatch center.

He estimated that half of Beaver County or more was without power and said the county itself and several municipalities had declared emergencies as crews tried to clear mammoth snow accumulations from streets.

"I measured it at my house before I left. That was at 8 o'clock. It was 17 inches," he said.

Fayette County residents were heeding the urging of officials not to venture outside.

"We really don't have any accidents because people are taking heed to the fact that they can't get out," said Susan Griffith, spokeswoman for Fayette County Emergency Management. "And nothing's open anyway."

Still, she emergency officials there and elsewhere had plenty of other problems to deal with, from reports of fires and medical emergencies to figuring out how to get some of their own colleagues to work through treacherous roads.

Much of the region was without electric service today.

As of 9:15 p.m., Duquesne Light estimated that 26,000 customers in Allegheny and Beaver counties remained without electrical service. That is down from a high of 57,000 customers who were without power this morning.

The heavy, wet snow caused limbs and trees to fall onto power lines, causing the outages, the company said. The problem was compounded by the road conditions which slowed crews from reaching some areas to restore service.

So far the company has 1,100 cases of downed wires, 250 cases of downed trees or tree limbs on wires, and 51 damaged poles.

Because of the nature of the storm, there is currently no estimated restoration time.

The company urged the public to be cautious and avoid downed wires. No one should drive over wires nor attempt to move them or trees and branches from them.

Residents are also asked to please report any outages by calling Duquesne Light at 1-888-393-7000.

A huge chunk of the service territory of Allegheny Power was also out of service this morning, said spokesman David Neurohr.

Of 710,000 customers in Western Pennsylvania, about 102,000 were without power, he said.

The company's service territory includes Allegheny, Armstrong, Bedford, Butler, Fayette, Greene, Westmoreland, Washington and Somerset counties.

"We're still in the throes of it. Our crews our working as quickly and safely as we can. It's sporadic and widespread,'' he said, noting that 2,700 separate cases needs to be addressed.

A power outage at Canonsburg Hospital caused it to go to "Code Black," meaning it was not accepting any additional patients, said spokesman Dan Laurent.

Mr. Laurent said the hospital had auxiliary power "which is capable of sustaining them for several days." The hospital, which has about 90 beds, had a fairly low census when the outage hit, he said.

"I know patient care was not impacted" from the outage, Mr. Laurent ssid, noting auxiliary power kicked in almost instantaneously.


To read more, visit the Post-Gazette website.

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