School closures, event cancelations and the postponement of Halloween activities are the first indications that the megastorm swirling over Pennsylvania is having an impact on southwestern Pennsylvania. The Pittsburgh Public School District and several suburban districts have cancled class for Tuesday. Municipalities throughout the region including Pittsburgh have put off trick-or-treating until Saturday when the weather will be more conducive to young ghosts and goblins traipsing trough the neighborhood looking for sweets.
Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl has sent out crews to make sure sewers are free from debris to help prevent street flooding, and the city’s emergency responders are on heightened alert. Allegheny County has declared a countywide disaster emergency to “enable county and municipal governments to respond effectively to the impact of Hurricane Sandy.”
The declaration authorizes county agencies to use all available resources and personnel as necessary to deal with the magnitude and severity of this emergency situation. Bid and contract procedures, as well as other formalities normally prescribed by law, are waived for the duration of the declaration.
Somerset County says it is ready to deal with the snow that could come its way. The National Weather Services says the state’s higher elevations could get a serving of wet snow Tuesday.
The Army Corps of Engineers says it thinks it can handle most of the water that will drain into the Pittsburgh basin.
In the meantime, the eastern half of the state is already dealing with flooding and high winds where hundreds of residents have fled their homes in anticipation of rising floodwaters from Hurricane Sandy, as officials warned of the massive storm's danger.
The storm is uprooting lives
Sheila Gladden evacuated from her home in Philadelphia's flood-prone Eastwick neighborhood and headed to a hotel, preferring not to take any chances.
"I'm not going through this again," said Gladden, who had 5½ feet of water in her home after Hurricane Floyd in 1999.
"They're telling me this is going to be worse than Floyd because this is some superstorm. I'm not going back until the water's receded."
Three hundred people had already evacuated to shelters in the Philadelphia area by midday Monday — hours before Hurricane Sandy's worst was expected to make landfall. In the neighboring communities of Darby and Bensalem, hundreds more residents had been ordered from their homes amid fears of flooding expected to peak in the early morning hours of Tuesday.
Bensalem Public Safety Director Fred Harran said it was better to get residents near the Neshaminy Creek out early than deal with a dangerous situation at 2 a.m.
"It could be the worst we've ever seen," he said.
Philadelphia is getting hit hard
In Philadelphia, Mayor Michael Nutter said as many as 10,000 people live in low-lying areas. Some have headed to shelters while many others are staying with family or friends.
"If we need to evacuate, we will," he said.
In west Philadelphia, Veronica Price heard the warnings of city officials Sunday night and decided she should head straight to a shelter after church.
So, she "dressed down" for church in a T-shirt and went directly to a city shelter at West Philadelphia High School after the service. As someone who lives alone, she knew she was one of the people the city was urging to head for a shelter.
"I said ... 'That's me, I'm out," said Price, 66, who was most worried about going days without power. "I got my bag and came straight here."
The National Weather Service issued high wind and flood warnings for much of southeastern Pennsylvania, where winds of up to 75 mph and up to 10 inches of rain were possible.
A two-month-old baby was injured early Monday morning when a falling tree crashed into the second story of a suburban Philadelphia house and left cuts on the sleeping infant's face, Upper Darby Police Superintendent Michael Chitwood said. The child was in good condition at a hospital, he said.
Emergency services are getting ready for a long relief effort
Officials warned Sandy is a dangerous storm that promises to bring power outages that could last for days and cause rain-swollen waterways to rise over their banks.
Darby Mayor Helen Thomas said her town opened its recreation center to more than 150 people that had to leave their homes. Local businesses were helping to feed evacuees.
"We're going to do what we've got to do to help our residents," she said. But added, "we won't turn away anyone."
In Orwigsburg in northeastern Pennsylvania, Donna Hollister picked up a few last-minute items as she prepared to ride out the storm. Hollister said her adult daughter had called at least six times to make sure she and her husband, who's had two strokes and doesn't get around well, are ready.
"My daughter is driving me nuts. I said, 'One more call, and I'm packing Pop up and we're coming over.' I don't think she'll call again," Hollister said with a laugh. "She's a caring daughter."
Pennsylvania musters all its assets
The Pennsylvania National Guard activated 750 more soldiers Monday morning and expected to have a total 800 more based in Pittsburgh and Scranton activated by midday, Staff Sgt. Matthew Jones said.
Guardsmen would take any assignments they got from state emergency management officials, including search and rescue, delivering supplies or setting up shelters. An aviation unit was also being prepped to fly rescue missions or check damage in hard-hit areas.
PennDOT and Pennsylvania Turnpike officials have instituted speed restrictions over concerns about high winds and ordered certain vehicles, including empty trucks and motorcycles, off some highways.
A new Pennsylvania law that took effect in September calls for higher fines for motorists who drive past "road closed" signs. They are now subject to fines up to $500, and could be liable for emergency response costs, too.
President Barack Obama signed an emergency declaration for Pennsylvania early Monday that will allow state officials to request federal funding and other storm assistance.
In portions of western Pennsylvania, the National Weather Service issued a flash flood watch for areas that could get more than two inches of rain Monday and Tuesday, causing some flooding along small streams or where drainage is poor. Snow was expected later in the week.
Associated Press writers Patrick Walters and Micheal Rubinkam contributed to this report.