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Superstorm weakening, worst has passed for Pennsylvania

By Mark Scolforo

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Oct. 30 2012 6:48 a.m. MDT

PHILADELPHIA — A one-two punch of rain and high wind from a monster hybrid storm that started out as a hurricane battered Pennsylvania, leaving more than a million people without power as officials prepared to assess the damage Tuesday.

The storm soaked Philadelphia and its suburbs Monday night but forecasters said the worst was behind the state by daybreak Tuesday.

Major interstates around Philadelphia reopened Tuesday morning although some speed and vehicle restrictions remained in place across the state. Additional road closures were likely in the day ahead, as the center of the storm was forecast to turn north from the Harrisburg area.

The severity of the storm in Pennsylvania expressed itself during the day Monday through a set of increasingly worrisome numbers, from the hundreds of people who fled their homes in the southeastern part of the state to the power outages affecting more than 1.2 million customers by early Tuesday.

At least four deaths were attributed to the storm. They included an elderly Lancaster County man who fell on Sunday from a tree he was trimming in advance of the approaching storm.

An 8-year-old boy died when tree limb fell on him in Franklin Township, north of Montrose. In Berks County, a 62-year-old man died after a tree fell on top of a house in Pike Township near Boyertown. And in Somerset County a woman died when the car she was riding in skidded off a snowy, slushy roadway and overturned into a pond.

PECO reported 585,000 without power in Philadelphia and nearby counties, a total which would fluctuate as residents awoke to find their service disrupted.

"This will still be multiple days," PECO spokesman Fred Maher said Tuesday morning. "We'll be able to get a lot of folks back up pretty quickly, but it'll take us several days to get everybody back to power."

About 3,000 repairmen from Ohio, Kentucky and Chicago were poised to help the state's utilities restore service.

PPL said the storm caused 395,000 outages in its service territory, enough to rank it among the top 3 or 4 in its history. Crews were out at daybreak taking stock of the damage, and the company planned to send up a chopper to do an aerial survey. A spokesman said power might not be fully restored for a week or more.

"From a weather standpoint, this is a much larger, more powerful and dynamic storm than Hurricane Irene last year," PPL spokesman Michael Wood said. "Outages just accumulated remarkably fast."

"We ask everybody to stay inside and stay off the roads, if possible," said Gov. Tom Corbett.

Corbett set up shop inside the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency headquarters outside Harrisburg, where top aides and Cabinet members were providing running updates and helping make spot decisions as events unfold. He activated 1,600 members of the National Guard, making them ready for deployment to trouble spots.

"This is going to be an event that for a period of time is going to alter the way we do things," Corbett said.

The storm snapped trees in and around Philadelphia. Caution tape blocked both streets at one South Philadelphia intersection where splintered trees had landed on top of vehicles.

Downed trees, power lines and flooding forced a significant number of road closures across the eastern part of the state. PennDOT reopened Interstates 95 and 676 in the city and previously closed stretches of I-76 and 476 on Tuesday morning but reported much work still needed to be done.

High winds were so bad at one point PennDOT pulled its crews off the roads for a time for safety reasons, spokesman Charles Metzger said Tuesday morning.

"As many trees as we're going after, we had more trees coming around our guys," he said.

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