Sandy Arrives: More Than a Million Without Power

Hurricane Sandy was reclassified as a post-tropical cyclone after making landfall in New Jersey Monday night and by midnight, the system was making its way over Philadelphia and farther into Pennsylvania. By sunrise, the center of the system was spinning in south-central PA, in and around Franklin County.

The storm is expected to turn north and move on into New York state and New England tomorrow. The remnants of Sandy still pack some strong wind gusts, but much of the torrential rain has ended. Light-to-moderate rain will continue for those in the path of the storm. Rainfall totals associated with Sandy were highest along the southern border with Maryland in eastern Pennsylvania where 6-8 inches of rain fell on Monday. A portion of central Pennsylvania southeast of Altoona also checked in with 6-8 inches according to the National Weather Service.

More than a million power customers were without service as the sun came up on Tuesday. PPL reported nearly 400,000 customers in the dark early this morning, while PECO was scrambling to restore power to hundreds of thousands in the five-county Philadelphia region. The First Energy companies (West Penn, Met-Ed, Penelec & Penn Power) also reported widespread outages which were most heavily concentrated in Berks and Northampton counties.


Hurricane Sandy: Utilities Brace for Impact

As Hurricane Sandy continues on its collision course with Pennsylvania, utilities are preparing for high winds to wreak havoc with the electricity grid.

Officials with Allentown-based PPL say the utility has brought in 1500 extra crew members from as far away as Arkansas to deal with the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Utility trucks have been amassing in numerous staging areas near major highways Monday morning as they prepare to be dispatched to trouble spots. The high winds associated with Sandy could uproot trees and knock down numerous power lines. Officials say power outages could last several days.

West Penn, Penelec, Met-Ed and other utilities are also scrambling their work force and preparing for emergency repairs.

Tropical storm-force winds are expected to top 60 MPH as the center of Sandy moves into the Keystone State by early Tuesday. Torrential rainfall is expected to begin today with totals reaching up to 10 inches.


State Officials, Utilities Prepare for Major Storm

Utilities are preparing for the potential of significant damage and power outages as Hurricane Sandy moves up the coast.   They’re bringing in extra crews and following the forecast.

PPL spokesman Joe Nixon says they have sister utilities in Kentucky and they’re already arranging to have them come in. They’re also reaching out  to the western states.

First Energy is taking similar steps.  Spokesman Scott Surgeoner says they’re moving crews in from service areas not impacted by the storm to those areas most likely to be hit.  He says they’re also working with mutual assistance organizations to have additional crews ready to restore service if needed.

The storm will be the first major test for changes made after Hurricane Irene, Tropical Storm Lee and the October snowstorm last year. First Energy has a 24 hour outage center on its home page that can be accessed by smart phone. The utility has agreements to place staff at a number of county emergency management offices to aid in coordinating power restoration. PPL has added capacity to its customer contact center to better handle high volume periods.

The utilities want people to notify them if their power goes out. Customers of First Energy utilities can call 1-888-544-4877. The number connects to an interactive system. Customers can also use the outage center on line.

PPL customers can call 1-800-342-5775. They can also use the on line outage center.

Despite the best efforts of the utilities, there could be prolonged power outages.  If you lose service, Surgeoner says don’t turn to unsafe methods of keeping warm. He says propane ovens or stoves should not be used to try to heat the house; they can cause carbon monoxide fumes to build up.  He says generators must be installed properly and used in well ventilated areas where fumes cannot come into your living space.

All downed power lines should be treated as live wires. Damaged power lines should be reported to the utility. Downed wires can also be reported to 911.

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency is also urging residents to prepare.  You can get a check list on line.

Governor Corbett toured areas hit by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee last year and urged people to be prepared for this storm.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is urging preparations all along the East Coast.

Thousands of Pennsylvanians Still Without Power

The wrath of Hurricane Irene was too much for many electric transmission and distribution lines in the eastern half of the state.  At the height of the storm, 768,000 homes and businesses were without power.  As of 1pm, Monday, the Public Utility Commission reported that number had been reduced to 385,000. 

Utility crews from Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky have arrived in PPL Electric’s 29-county service territory.  “Right now were’ still looking at probably a 3 – 5 days in which to wrap up all of the storm restoration.  That’s the extent of the damage we’re seeing,” says PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau.

First Energy has more than 4,000 extra workers on hand in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  “We’re going to have to probably, in the Met-Ed area, replace more than 200-poles and more than 400-spans of wire that have come down,” explains spokesman Scott Surgeoner.  While crews are working around-the-clock, Surgeoner says it’s too early to estimate how long it will take to restore power to all Met-Ed and Penelec customers. 

If your power is out, the Public Utility Commission recommends unplugging large appliances (except for the refrigerator/freezer) and keeping most light switches in the off position.  “Otherwise, when the power comes back on, it could cause a surge to your home and really short out some of your equipment and belongings,” says PUC spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher.  She says to leave one lamp on, so you know when the power is restored.  Then, wait 15-minutes before turning on other appliances.

More Woes for Electric Customers in Hurricane Irene’s Wake

As the high winds associated with Hurricane Irene picked up velocity in Pennsylvania during the early morning hours, the state’s utilities were scrambling to keep the lights on. As of 10:45am Sunday, PPL was reporting more than 191,000 customers out of service in 29 counties, with more reports of additional outages coming in. The most widespread outages were reported in Dauphin, Lancaster, Cumberland, Lehigh and Schuylkill counties.

Meanwhile, PECO was also working to restore power to thousands of customers in southeast Pennsylvania as dawn arrived and the extent of damage from Hurricane Irene became evident.

There are numerous reports of flooding, downed trees and other property damage throughout eastern PA as the massive storm finally begins to move to the north east.


Utilities Prepare for Irene

Utilities in the path of Irene have been busy preparing for the storm, transferring crews and even having tree trimming crews available if the hurricane causes damage to the power grid. They urge customers to call if they lose service during the storm, and not just assume the utility knows because the whole neighborhood is out.

PECO spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez says the emergency number is 1-800-841-4141.  She says they’re suggesting customers have a flashlight, battery powered radio and extra batteries in case service is lost during the storm.

Engel Menendez says customers should stay away from damaged equipment or downed wires.  She says even if power is out in a neighborhood, a wire could still be live. Those conditions should be reported immediately.

Engel Menendez says if you have to use a generator; keep it outside and away from windows and never connect it directly to the home’s wiring or a household outlet. She says if the generators are connected that way, they can feed electricity back into PECO’s system, creating a dangerous risk for utility crews who are working to restore service.

PPL spokesman Kurt Blumenau says the utility is bringing in crews from Kentucky to help with storm clean up if needed. He also emphasizes that people need to stay away from downed power lines as well as electrical equipment that may be underwater. PPL’s emergency service number is 1-800-342-5775.

Scott Surgeoner, spokesman for First Energy, says they expect to have the most impact on the Eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey portions of their service area. They have been moving crews from their western service territory to their eastern territories, including those from West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania and Ohio.  The utility also has two meteorologists on staff.

Surgeoner says if Met Ed customers or other First Energy customers experience an outage, they should call 1-888-544-4877. He says all outages should be reported, because the more who report, the sooner they can pinpoint the exact location of the outage problem.

Surgeoner says if you lose power, keep freezers and refrigerators shut unless you have to get something out.  He says a freezer can keep foods fresh up to three days if it’s not repeatedly opened.  State Health officials say you should check the temperature of the freezer with a thermometer as soon as power is restored.

Telephone and Wireless service providers have also been preparing for the storm.   Network engineers and facilities people are ready to deploy equipment as needed to help with communications needs according to Verizon Wireless. Spokesman Sheldon Jones says they plan year-round for these types of situations and they’re confidence the network will perform well.

But as the recent earthquake shows, wireless networks can experience delays. Jone says when you have hundreds of thousands of people calling at one time, some calls may not get through until the congestion clears. He says people should limit the amount of non-emergency calls they make as the storm hits, and try texting when volume is heavy.

Jones says they’ve been communicating with government agencies and first responder agencies to assist with their communication needs during the emergency.

He says customers should keep their wireless phones fully charged in case power is lost, and it’s also a good idea to have back up batteries charged and ready. He says people with smart phones can download apps that provide critical weather-related and safety information. He says many of these apps are free and people should take a look at them if they have a smart phone or a tablet.

Verizon provided these tips for landline and wireless customers:

Wireless customers should:

·       Keep phones, batteries, chargers and other equipment in a dry, accessible location.  Consider waterproof accessories or simple zip-lock storage bags to protect devices.

·       Keep wireless phone batteries fully charged – in case local power is lost – well before warnings are issued.

·       Have additional charged batteries and car-charger adapters available for backup power.

·       Maintain a list of emergency numbers – police and fire agencies; power and insurance companies; family, friends and co-workers; etc. – and program them into your phone.

·       Distribute wireless phone numbers to family members and friends.

·       Use a service such as Backup Assistant, the free Verizon Wireless application that stores a phone’s address book on a secure server in case the phone is lost or damaged.

·       Limit non-emergency calls to conserve battery power and free up wireless networks for emergency agencies and operations.

·       Send brief text messages rather than voice calls for the same reasons as above.

·       Forward your home phone calls to your wireless number if you evacuate.

Landline customers  who rely solely on cordless phones in their home should consider purchasing an inexpensive hard-wired phone that plugs directly into a wall jack.  Cordless phones will not function without commercial power.

Residential customers should contact Verizon on line or at 1-800-VERIZON  to report any service-related issue.  Business customers should contact their regular customer service centers or account teams as needed.   Verizon Wireless customers can call *611 from their wireless device or 1-800-922-0204 to report any service-related issue.