'No one from Peco is telling us anything.' Frustration builds as 99,000 remain without power

In an effort to restore power to the remaining 99,000 customers who have been in the dark since Friday’s nor’easter, Peco has brought in reinforcement crews from Illinois and other states and has projected that a majority of customers should expect to have power back by Monday night, while others will have to wait until later in the week.

“We understand the natural frustration that comes along with these storm-related service interruptions,” Mike Innocenzo, senior vice president and chief operating officer for Peco, said in a statement issued Saturday night. “Rest assured, we have marshalled every resource available and will be working 24/7 until power is safely restored for our customers.”

By nearly 4 p.m. Sunday, more than 25,000 Peco customers had regained power since morning.

But throughout the region, residents and business owners were brimming with complaints about what they see as too slow of a response. At least two school districts, Haverford and Radnor, have announced that schools will be closed Monday. Others expected to decide Sunday night. As of late Sunday afternoon, an estimated 55 schools in the region were waiting for the lights to come back on.

“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?”

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT
A car on Old Gulph Road in Bryn Mawr that was no match for what fell on it compliments of Friday’s nor’easter. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

Kirk Slade, superintendent of a pair of seven-story apartment buildings on State Road in Drexel Hill that house mostly elderly residents, said both buildings were still without power just before 3 p.m. Sunday, 46 hours after going dark and rendering the elevators useless. Slade said 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.

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.

The storm, which had wind gusts of up to 59 mph, knocked out power to more than 616,000 Peco customers. As of Sunday afternoon, Delaware and Montgomery counties had the largest number of outages.

In Delaware County, 44,000 remained without power. In Montgomery County, 33,000; Bucks County, 10,000; and Philadelphia, 3,000.

In order to restore electricity, downed trees must be moved from power lines, making the process more time-consuming, Peco said. On Saturday, high winds continued to topple more trees and limited the ability of bucket trucks used for line repairs.

Some residents had a double whammy of not having power and water. In Doylestown, several residents have well water, which requires electricity to power the machinery that extracts the water. So, those residents haven’t been able to shower or run the kitchen and bathroom faucets since Friday’s storm.

People took to social media to show damage in their homes and neighborhoods.

So this just happened to our house. Thank god nobody was hurt.

A post shared by Courtenay Harris Bond (@courtenayharrisbond) on

A pickup truck in South Jersey was charred due to fallen power lines.

Several cars throughout the region were crushed by fallen trees.

Two SEPTA buses — Route 53 and Route 125 — were also struck by downed trees and sustained damage. Four passengers on the Route 125 bus reported injuries, SEPTA spokesman Andrew Busch said.

Camera icon MICHAEL BRYANT
A SEPTA Route 53 bus on Wayne Avenue, near Lincoln Drive, was stopped by a tree that slammed onto its roof and brought down power lines. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

The transit agency continued to work Sunday to try to get its Regional Rail and trolley lines back to full service.

The West Trenton and Chestnut Hill East Lines remained suspended until further notice. The Norristown High Speed Line was shut down with shuttle buses running in place of the trains. Shuttle buses are also replacing trolleys on Routes 101 and 102.

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. At the height of the storm on Friday, Dunn said, city officials reported 60 traffic lights not working. As of Saturday night, 25 were still dark.

“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 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 the five-story building on the 1200 block of North Front Street was last inspected by L&I in November for the foundation. The contractor had not yet scheduled an inspection for the framing, which was what had crumbled during the storm.

“Although the wind gusts were severe and unprecedented on Friday, a properly braced wood frame building under construction should remain standing,” Perri said, adding that the department is investigating the collapse.

Perri said eight other buildings had partial-collapse damage following the storm. Two people were injured when a portion of a brick facade on the 2500 block of Germantown Avenue fell.

The downed trees and debris throughout the region is likely to make the Monday morning commute a nightmare.

Lower Merion School District Superintendent Robert L. Copeland warned parents in a letter posted on Facebook Sunday to expect school buses to be late Monday.

“Due to road closures, many of our buses will need to take alternate routes to get to your bus stop. These routes are changing by the hour,” Copeland said. Students waiting more than 20 minutes after their scheduled pickup time should call 610-645-1940 to check on the status of their bus.

Copeland said that due to power outages, Harriton High School and Gladwyne Elementary School might not be open Monday. He promised to give an update on the school district’s website before 10 p.m. Sunday.

Because a number of people in Lower Merion are without power, Copeland said, the district opened up Lower Merion High School between 1:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. Sunday for residents to charge phones and take a shower.

In Newtown Square, a massive tree fell against utility lines on Bryn Mawr Avenue, yet hundreds of cars were driving under that dangerous setup all morning Sunday.

Camera icon Michael Bryant
On Sunday March 4, 2018, on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Newtown Square, two way traffic was driving under a massive tree that had fallen against utility wires during the storm on Friday. MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

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 customers who had lost service Friday. Flooding never reached alarming levels.

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, have fallen on a house, car or other property. They said a crew of arborists from the Parks & Recreation Department is on call to respond to tree emergencies.

To report trees that are not blocking a road or have 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.

The good news is that temperatures are expected to stay above freezing the next few days. The bad news is they are expected to drop to the mid-30s Tuesday night, when rain is forecast to turn to snow.

“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 report.