Centre County officials urge caution as residents ride out storm

mcarroll@centredaily.comOctober 29, 2012 

The Centre Region Council of Governments declared an emergency for State College and College, Ferguson, Halfmoon, Harris and Patton townships.

The American Red Cross open its first emergency shelter Monday afternoon at Bald Eagle Area High School. A second shelter opened Monday night at Philipsburg-Osceola Senior High School.

“We had to be here and be ready,” said Romayne Naylor, site coordinator at the shelter in Bald Eagle. “You don’t know when someone might have need of us. We’re here. We’re set up. We’re ready to receive.”

Locally, emergency responders were preparing for flooding and power outages.

Centre County Emergency Management Agency Coordinator Randy Rockey said local officials especially are concerned about power outages caused by downed trees and power lines.

According to the National Weather Service in State College, sustained winds reached 18 mph and gusts 35 mph by 8 p.m. Monday. Gusts reached between 50 mph and 60 mph as the storm moved inland.

The National Weather Service said sustained winds of at least 40 mph or gusts of 58 mph or high can lead to property damage.

About 600 customers were without power around 9 p.m. Monday night in Centre County.

Nearly 200 of those were in State College. Of the rest, most were in Boggs, Worth and Huston townships and Centre Hall Borough, according to First Energy, which serves a large swath of Centre County.

“We certainly expect the weather to pick up,” First Energy spokesman Mark Nitowski said Monday. “We’re prepared. The storm’s been coming. We have our crews ready to go.”

Naylor recommended those who lose power be cautious using generators and candles in their homes.

She said generators produce carbon monoxide, an odorless, colorless gas that kills more than 500 people in the U.S. every year. Generators should be placed outside, away from doors, windows and vents that could allow carbon monoxide to seep inside.

When dealing with a power outage, residents should never leave a candle unattended, Naylor said. Battery-powered flashlights are recommended.

If temperatures dip, Naylor said families should gather in a central room of their home and close doors and windows to maintain heat. She recommended layering clothing to stay warm.

According to the Red Cross, an unopened refrigerator keeps food cold for about four hours. The group urges families to eat perishable foods first. If an the outage is likely to last more than a day, move items from the freezer to a cooler with ice. Other tips can be found on the group’s website.

Naylor said the shelter at Bald Eagle can accommodate 575 people. The Red Cross can open an additional 33 shelters throughout the area.

“If we have overflow, we can keep this moving,” she said.

The National Weather Service also has said there was potential locally for flooding on small streams, creeks and in urban and low-lying areas during the storm.

Rockey said local officials expect some flooding, particularly in areas usually see issues during large storms — such as Milesburg.

“We’re keeping a close eye on the storm,” said Milesburg Mayor Ethel Kellerman .”Once it does flood, we know enough and can get out quick. We’re just waiting. Just like any other storm.”

Travelers who must be on the roads should be sure they have an emergency kit packed in their vehicles. A basic kit should include non-perishable food, water, blanket, small shovel and warm clothes, according to PennDOT.

The State College Public Works Department will staff crews constantly, for the duration of the storm, according to information from the borough Monday.

The borough encouraged residents to help talk precautions to reduce potential flooding. Those who live in low-lying areas should check for storm inlets on or near their properties and, if leaves are blocking a sewer grate, rake them away to allow water to infiltrate.

Residents also were encouraged to bring lawn furniture and other items inside, in case of high winds, and to stock up on food, medicines and batteries.

The borough is offering free parking in downtown parking garages on Beaver Avenue, Fraser Street and Pugh Street, for those who want to get their cars under cover during the storm.

They will remain open for free parking until Wednesday morning or until further notice. Due to the potential of falling trees, the borough is not giving any on-street parking permissions until further notice.

With construction in progress on The Retreat, the student housing complex on Waupelani Drive, various pipes and other materials await installation at the site, though crews were not working Monday.

State College engineer Amy Kerner said she spoke to the site contractor, who said most of the materials are still banded together, reducing the hazard should the region see the predicted high winds. Kerner said the contractor planned to secure any loose items Monday.

Before noon Monday, the Ace Hardware at Hills Plaza had empty hooks where flashlights once hung. The store also was out of D and 6-volt batteries, lamp oil and small propane tanks. Manager Grant Rosenberger said he still had the 15-pound propane tanks used for grills.

“We have some decorative candles and a little bit of kerosene,” he said. “We’re out of lamps.”

Rosenberger said customers didn’t seem panicked, just in search of supplies in preparation of the storm.

With deliveries once a week from a warehouse in Virginia, he said it was unclear what supplies the store will receive this week. He said no more D batteries are coming, “even though we ordered them,” because the warehouse has sold out.

“I’m not sure what we’ll get,” he said.

Jessica VanderKolk contributed to this report.

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