Area braces for Sandy
Although the brunt of Hurricane Sandy hasn't hit the area yet, the storm has already forced a state of emergency to be declared in Mount Carmel, closed schools throughout the area, shut down all Northumberland County operations and prompted municipal officials to establish emergency procedures.
Emergency personnel, firefighters and government leaders met in Shamokin and Mount Carmel on Sunday night to prepare for what many weather experts have described as one of the worst storms ever to hit the Northeast region of the country.
Classes at Shamokin Area, Mount Carmel Area, Line Mountain, Southern Columbia Area and Our Lady of Lourdes Regional School are closed today. Bloomsburg University also is among several colleges in the region to cancel school for today and Tuesday.
Northumberland County Commissioner Chairman Vinny Clausi said the county has shut down operations today due to the high wind advisory for the area for the safety of its employees. Depending on how the storm progresses, Clausi said the county may be forced to close its offices Tuesday as well.
Mount Carmel Mayor J. Kevin Jones declared a state of emergency for the borough, starting at 6 a.m. today and remaining in effect until further notice.
Due to expected flooding conditions and high winds, the mayor urged residents to limit pedestrian and vehicle traffic, stock emergency preparedness kits with such items as water, canned goods, medications, flashlights, car chargers for cell phones, blankets and any other necessary items. He advised citizens to make sure they have cash on hand in the event that power is lost to ATM machines and urged them to fill their vehicles with fuel in case power is shut off to gas or diesel pumps.
In the event that Center Street begins to flood, all residents are directed to go to the Mount Carmel Area Rescue Squad at Second and Walnut Street until American Red Cross personnel are notified.
Jones said if a resident has a medical emergency and their house telephone fails, family members or neighbors should take them to Anthracite Fire Company at Third and Market streets.
The mayor cautioned residents not to call 911 for routine emergencies.
He said police calls will be handled on a priority basis with storm issues being addressed first.
Residents on corners in the borough are asked to monitor inlets and clear leaves from storm drains if possible until borough street department and/or municipal authority employees can respond.
Jones said there will be no Lower Anthracite Transportation System buses running today and Tuesday.
He said Mount Carmel Fire Department does not have the capability of pumping basements, but will assist in shutting off power in a residence.
The mayor warned residents to be extra vigilant at all traffic signals if power is lost.
He said residents should secure all loose items on porches and yards.
Jones said a damage assessment will be addressed at a later date after the emergency has ceased.
He said all borough department heads met for approximately 90 minutes Sunday in borough council chambers to address the impending emergency.
Present for the meeting were Jones. state Representative Kurt Masser, borough manager Edward Cuff, Councilmen Clem Plisiewicz and Gary Hixson, Chief of Police Todd L. Owens, Officer David Donkochik, Borough Fire Chief Jack Williams Jr., Assistant Fire Chief James Reed, street department foreman Alan Matzura, street department laborer Howard Watkins, sewer authority foreman Thomas Gallagher, Lower Anthracite Transportation System Director Megan Janolek and borough emergency management coordinator Jason Godin.
Shamokin Councilman and Public Safety Director R. Craig Rhoades and city emergency management coordinator Rick Roughton organized a similar meeting Sunday night with city and county fire and emergency officials at Shamokin Emergency Squad.
Also in attendance were Councilman Michael Snyder, city clerk Steve Bartos, city fire chiefs, Northumberland County Director of Emergency Management Stephen Jeffery and Northumberland County Terrorism Task Force Planning Specialist Jason Zimmerman.
"We met to prepare for the pending effects of Hurricane Sandy," Rhoades said. "We set up for emergency responses to potential flooding, power outages and other problems within the city."
Rhoades said an emergency operations center has been set up at Shamokin Emergency Squad behind the city police station at Mill Road Square in the 500 block of North Franklin Street.
He said volunteers from the city's five fire companies will man 12-hour shifts for two to three days at the center.
Roughton said volunteers from the American Red Cross, who arrived in the community Sunday, have established a command post at Shamokin Area High School. He said the post was initially planned for the Shamokin Area Annex, but was moved to the high school to provide better accommodations, including parking.
"We don't want to panic the people, but we want them to be prepared for any emergencies that may arise," Rhoades said. "Mayor George Rozinskie Jr. is considering declaring a state of emergency for the city Monday (today) so we can begin documenting man hours and the amount of equipment used during the storm in an attempt to obtain reimbursement from the state and federal governments."
Rhoades noted the state has already declared a state of emergency.
Roughton said, "We are asking residents to cooperate throughout the storm. We would like them keep storm grates clear of any leaves to avoid flooding and stay off the streets as much as possible. We don't want people getting into situations that they can avoid. The creek channel will be closely monitored, especially in the Fifth Ward, where a great deal of flooding occurred last year."
Rhoades said a 15-passenger van provided by Shamokin Area School District will be utilized to transport residents from their homes if necessary. If the storm hits the area as hard as expected, he said home evacuations will probably be necessary. He warned residents that volunteers will only be going door-to-door once to issues evacuation notices.
"We urge people to listen to the warnings," Roughton said.
Rhoades encouraged residents to secure their property and keep items out of flood waters as much as possible. He said if telephone and cell phone services fail, citizens should travel to the nearest fire station for assistance.
Rhoades said volunteers will be conducting roving patrols with fire and emergency apparatus during the storm in flood prone areas.
The public safety director said firefighters and other emergency personnel will only pump water from flooded basements during the storm if a danger exists. He said water will be pumped from most basements when the storm passes.
Jeffery said a severe storm from Hurricane Sandy is scheduled to strike the area today through Wednesday.
He said Sandy is still a category I hurricane with sustained winds at 75 miles per hour. As of Sunday morning, he said the hurricane was located just southeast of Cape Hatteras, N.C.
Outer bands of rain from Hurricane Sandy are now into southeast Pennsylvania with high impact weather still scheduled for today and Tuesday across central Pennsylvania. Jeffery said major impact will be experienced by the county today through Wednesday.
Heavy rain will overspread the state from southeast to the north northwest, with the most significant rain falling today into late Tuesday. The exact axis of the heaviest rain is still subject to change, depending on the exact track of the storm, Jeffery said in his most recent press release regarding the storm.
He said rain from 3 to 5 inches is forecasted, however, some areas have the possibilities of getting 6 to 10 inches.
A flood watch remains in effect for all counties in central Pennsylvania through Tuesday morning. Flooding and flash flooding of small streams in the county were possible Sunday night.
High wind watches and warnings are posted across central Pennsylvania counties from 8 a.m. today until 2 p.m. Tuesday. Most of the area can expect sustained winds of 25 to 35 miles per hour with gusts up to 60 miles per hour.
Jeffery said winds will strengthen well ahead of the center of the storm as it moves inland. Prolonged winds will take a toll on trees and power lines, he warned.
"We need to remember this is not your typical storm," he said. "Impacts will include heavy rain, flooding, high winds and probable prolonged power outages. The time to prepare is quickly ending. Recommendations are not to travel if it does not require you to do so. Stay away from windows and if you have trees near your home, remain at your lower level."
Jeffery said travelers should not cross standing or fast-moving water, but turn around. He reminded motorists and pedestrians that water is a conductor for downed power lines.
"As we plan for the worse and hope for the best, it is now time to take action," he said. "Help those who need help, especially your elderly neighbors."
Jeffery cautioned as the storm gets closer, emergency services will be inundated and resources will be limited. He said the public safety department encourages residents to use discretion and only call 911 if they are in need of immediate help.