Corbett tours Upper Bucks shelter, urges patience, action

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Gov. Corbett talks to Red Cross volunteers at the shelter at Palisades High School on Wednesday. (Bill Reed/Staff)

Gov. Corbett toured the Red Cross shelter in Upper Bucks County on Wednesday, where there has been no sign of Met-Ed utility trucks since Sandy barreled through the rural region Monday night.

"We're trying to get you back in your home," the governor said as he talked to residents in the shelter at Palisades High School in Nockamixon Township.

Bucks and Montgomery counties took the brunt of the storm, Corbett said. Bucks had the most homes without power of all the counties in the state.

"There's more electricity out up here than in Philadelphia," said the governor, who had just come from the city. "I could tell by all the businesses that were closed as I rode up Route 611."

As Corbett toured the shelter, he directed Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, a former county commissioner, to get Met-Ed working on restoring power.

More than 6,000 Met-Ed customers in the county are without power, state Rep. Marguerite Quinn said. That includes the high school/shelter, which is running on an emergency generator.

About 24 to 30 residents have been spending the night at the shelter, Red Cross officials said.

Hundreds more have stopped in each day to warm up, eat a hot meal and take a shower, daytime manager Chuck McElroy said.

School district workers and students have prepared and cooked breakfasts and lunches. Nearby St. Luke's Lutheran Church, also powered by gas generators, has provided dinners.

Getting power to the shelter is a priority, said Cawley, who is scheduled to tour Bristol Township and other hard-hit areas of Lower Bucks on Thursday.

On Wednesday night, National Guard troops helped police patrol Bristol Township streets for the second night to prevent burglaries of businesses and vacant homes. Some power was restored during the day. but most of the township was without electricity, officials said.

In Upper Bucks around mid-day, residents filtered into the shelter, which is staffed by volunteers whose homes also are without power. 

“Our power’s been out since 11 p.m. Monday,” said Victoria Gischel, 38, of Upper Black Eddy. “The transformer outside our house blew up.”

Gischel and her family – her husband and five children, ages 10 to 21 – have been staying in their house, “but I brought the kids here to warm up and get something hot to eat,” she said.

They have a small generator, but they haven’t hooked it up to the TV yet she said.

“We’ve been playing a lot of card games and stay huddled under blankets.”

Like much of Upper Bucks, Gischel’s yard had several toppled trees, but her house was not damaged by superstorm Sandy.

Many residents in this rural part of the county get their drinking water from wells that require electric pumps. On Wednesday, a tanker truck outside the shelter provided fresh water for those who brought  bottles.

About 4 p.m., the township provided ice in the parking lot. And a shipment of military-grade MRE's (Meals Ready to Eat) for residents to take home was scheduled to arrive.

Cathy Leidtke, who runs a food pantry for low-income families at St. John R.C. Church, said she's been giving out canned and package goods, but no meats, because there’s no electric to cook.

“I’ve got freezers filled with thousands of dollars of meat – we just got a shipment Friday – and I’ll need generators soon if the power isn’t restored.”

Some families have gas generators, while many cannot afford them, she said. Those with generators have to “pick and choose” what to use the electricity for, since most generators are not large enough to power an entire house and only run for a few hours before needing more gasoline.

Most residents have septic tanks, so they can flush toilets without power, Liedtke said. Those with "sand mounds" in their yards need electricity to pump the waste out of their homes.  

Daniel Eck of Durham Township said superstorm Sandy “is the strongest storm I’ve seen since I’ve lived, and that’s coming up on 66 years. I’ve never seen anything like this – trees down and power outages.”

The semi-retired golf cart mechanic has a gas generator to power the refrigerator- freezer “and a few other odds and ends, but not [a pump for] water and not the heater,” he said.

“I doubt we’ll see any kind of power for at least two weeks.”

Eck and his wife checked out the shelter Wednesday for the first time, because they had just heard about it through word of mouth, he said.

“It’s a nice set up, we’ll be back,” he said, to eat and get warm, but not to sleep.