Work crews scrambled Sunday to restore electrical power and to clear roadways and railways in time for the Monday rush hour as the region recovered from Friday’s devastating nor’easter, which a Peco executive called one of the worst storms in the utility’s history.
Haverford and Radnor announced that schools will be closed Monday because of power outages, and other school districts were evaluating a decision on reopening Monday morning if electric service was restored. Lower Merion Schools said that Harriton High School and Gladwyne Elementary School will be closed Monday, but all other schools will be open.
In consultation with the Township, Police, and PECO schools will be closed 3/5/18. There are number of remaining road closures, downed trees & wires in key locations making it potentially unsafe for student walkers and impossible for buses to travel through some areas.
— Haverford MS (@Haverford_MS) March 4, 2018
About 630,000 of Peco’s 1.6 million electrical customers were affected by Friday’s storm, making it the third worst storm in recent history, compared with the 850,000 who lost power in 2012’s Hurricane Sandy and 715,000 that lost service in a 2014 ice storm. Peco took eight days to recover after Sandy and six days to restore service to all customers after the ice storm.
Fewer than 55,000 customers were still without electricity Monday morning, and Mike Innocenzo, Peco’s chief operating officer, said in an interview that the utility expects most of them will have service restored by Monday night.
But some customers won’t get power restored until midweek, as repair crews tackle smaller, more remote, and more complicated outages. Peco’s online outage map, which lists expected restoration times, indicates some customers could be without service through Thursday.
“Until we get every last customer on, we’re not done, and we continue to pull in resources and work around the clock until we get every last customer on,” said Innocenzo, whose promotion to CEO at the end of March was announced the day before the storm struck. “Because restoring power to 500,000 customers in 48 hours is only comforting if you’re one of those 500,000. If you’re not one of those 500,000, we recognize that’s not very comforting.”
The storm, which had wind gusts of up to 59 mph, and was coupled with heavy, wet snow, toppled an immense number of trees that ripped down power lines, blocked roadways, and severed overhead power lines on SEPTA railways. Delaware and Montgomery counties suffered the largest number of outages.
The transit agency worked Sunday to clear tracks and rebuild overhead wires to Regional Rail trains and trolleys. SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said that service on the West Trenton line, Chestnut Hill East line, and the Norristown High Speed Line would resume Monday morning, but that service on two suburban trolley lines, Routes 101 and 102, was likely to be only partially restored.
Friday’s storm knocked out power to more than two million electric customers from North Carolina to Maine, sparing few utilities on the East Coast and reducing the number of available repair crews that utilities could dispatch to neighboring areas. Peco reached out to utilities from Canada, Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Illinois, and Michigan to send assistance, which began arriving Saturday.
Utilities are required to restore power first to critical public safety and health facilities — police stations, hospitals, nursing homes — and prioritize outage repairs by the number of customers affected. The least-complicated repairs that affect the most customers get the highest priority.
But throughout the region, residents and business owners were brimming with complaints about what they see as too slow of a response.
“No one from Peco is telling us anything,” said Marjorie Silverman, still without power Sunday morning and just then seeing the first utility truck — from Illinois — pull into her Lower Merion neighborhood. “People want to be informed. Is it going to be three hours or fours hours or three days?”
@PECOconnect can you please give an update on the restoration for Sabine Ave in Wynnewood. 369 houses are on our grid and I haven’t seen any PECO equipment in the area. We have nothing...why us?
— David J DiStefano (@daviddistef13) March 5, 2018
Kirk Slade, superintendent of a pair of seven-story apartment buildings on State Road in Drexel Hill that houses many elderly residents, complained that Peco has told them that they might be out of power until 4 p.m. Monday.
“We are swamped with calls from tenants,” he said, noting that more than 200 people live in the complex. “Food has gone bad, there’s no heat, no TV, no electric. Phones don’t work.”
Slade was trying to get a generator to at least get the elevators running Sunday afternoon.
“That way people with wheelchairs can at least leave the building, go get some groceries,” he said.
Not all Peco-related tweets were negative:
— Dana Crossan (@DLCrossanD) March 5, 2018
Generators were in high demand all over the region, selling out at many stores. In Lower Merion, generators powered traffic lights on Lancaster Avenue by Lankenau Hospital Sunday.
“Closed due to power outage” was the note on the entrance of the Ikea in Conshohocken that greeted disappointed customers Sunday.
Some residents with private water wells also lost water along with their power, since they need electricity to power water pumps.
City spokesman Mike Dunn said that Philadelphia wasn’t hit as hard as surrounding counties. Yet many neighborhoods were littered with downed trees. Traffic lights were also out at more than two dozen intersections.
“We are adding resources to either restore signals or make safe those that could not be repaired due to power outages,” Dunn said. “Those intersections have temporary stop signs posted until permanent repairs are made.”
The Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections was also busy responding to building damage –from partial collapses to a full construction site fail at Front and Girard.
L&I Commissioner David Perri said that two people were injured when a portion of a brick facade on the 2500 block of Germantown Avenue fell.
In a letter posted on Facebook Sunday, Lower Merion School District Superintendent Robert L. Copeland warned parents to expect school buses to be late Monday because of road closures. The district opened Lower Merion High School on Sunday afternoon for residents to charge phones and take showers.
The storm was much kinder to the Jersey Shore. Atlantic City Electric said about 1,900 customers remained without power Sunday, down from the 79,000 who had lost service Friday. Flooding never reached alarming levels.
New Jersey’s largest utility, Public Service Electric & Gas Co., said Sunday night that its outages would be repaired overnight and it planned to dispatch 190 workers to neighboring Jersey Center Power & Light to help restore service to 78,000 customers.
Peco asks that all customers report their outages or downed wires online at peco.com via its free mobile app or by calling 800-841-4141.
City officials urge residents to call 911 for any downed trees that are blocking roads or have fallen on a house, car, or other property. They said a crew of arborists from the Parks and Recreation Department is on call to respond to tree emergencies.
To report trees that are not blocking a road or have not damaged any property, people should call 311. If the tree is rooted on private property and is not a safety hazard, it is the homeowner’s responsibility, the city said.
Temperatures are expected to stay above freezing the next few days, but snow and rain turning to snow are forecast for Tuesday night.
“It’s too early to speculate on snowfall accumulation,” said Lance Franck, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
Staff writers Kathy Hacker, Barbara Laker, Mike Sielski, Mari Schaefer, Frank Kummer, Cassie Owens, Maria Panaritis, and Will Bunch contributed to this article.