Mayor Michael Nutter, who in the face of Hurricane Sandy yesterday declared a state of emergency to take effect at 5 p.m. today, has advised all Philadelphians living in flood-prone areas to evacuate by 2 p.m. this afternoon. "We are certain that a huge storm is coming in the direction of Philadelphia that poses a serious threat for Philadelphia and the Philadelphia region in terms of heavy rain, flooding and sustained high winds," he said.
The rain is forecast to begin this evening and continue into Tuesday afternoon, with the city expected to receive 24 to 36 hours of continuous rain totaling four to six inches with a possible rise of between four and eight feet. "When paired with the heavy rain and in a very serious way, the full moon, we could see near record flooding on the Delaware and severe impacts on feeder streams and creeks like the Pennypack," Nutter said.
According to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Chapter of the American Red Cross, the most dangerous effects of the storm will be power outages and flooding caused by the winds and rain. "There will be high winds that are obviously going to result in power outages," said spokesman Dave Schrader. "If you don't have a power outage, consider yourself lucky. Our primary concern is people not having power for several days. And then with flooding, the after-effects a lot of the time are worse. Flooding often occurs several hours after a rain event."
A flood watch, coastal flood watch and high wind watch will be in effect for Philadelphia this evening into Tuesday afternoon, according to the Office of Emergency Management. The areas most at risk – and those from which residents are advised to evacuate – fall near the city's two major rivers and various local creeks and streams, including:
– The areas around Kelly, Lincoln and Martin Luther King drives along the Schuylkill River and Wissahickon Creek
– Sections of Manayunk near Main Street
– River Road in the Roxborough area
– Delaware Avenue from Spring Garden Street to Washington Avenue
– The Philadelphia Naval Base in South Philadelphia
– Linden Avenue near the Delaware River in the Tacony area
– The areas surrounding the Pennypack, Poquessing, Tacony, Frankford and Wissahickon creeks in Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia
– The Eastwick and Cobbs Creek sections of Southwest Philadelphia
Those who live in low-lying neighborhoods with a history of flooding during storms are advised to stay with family members and friends. If that is not possible, the city will at 4 p.m. today be opening three shelters located at:
– Roxborough High School, 6498 Ridge Avenue
– West Philadelphia High School, 4901 Chestnut Street
– Fels High School, 5500 Langdon Street
Anyone who need protection is encouraged to go to a shelter, even if they are not residents of the city. "Basically, people show up at a shelter and sign in, but do not have to show ID," Schrader said. "Everyone is welcome. You do not have to show ID, you don't have to live in Philadelphia, you don't have to live in the area. We want to make that message clear."
There will also be six shelters opening at 7 p.m. tonight in Montgomery, Chester and Delaware counties. Those are:
– Pottstown High School, 750 North Washington Street, Pottstown
– Cheltenham High School, 500 Rices Mill Road, Wyncote
– Norristown High School, 1900 Eagle Drive, Norristown
– Avon Grove High School, 257 E. State Road, West Grove
– Lionville Middle School, 550 W. Uwchlan Avenue, Exton
– Showalter Science and Discovery School, 1100 West 10th Street, Chester
The city's shelters are currently set up to house a total of 500 people, though with extra cots currently on-hand, that capacity can easily be increased to 3,500, Schrader said. During last year's tropical storm Irene, about 600 people stayed in shelters in the area. "There is a contingency plan that we would potentially have the capacity to house 26,000 people," Schrader said. "We don't anticipate that to be necessary, at all, but there is a system that can be activated by Philadelphia local, state or federal authorities that we can respond to."
"For our residents, our message is very simple," Nutter said. "Have a plan, be prepared and then be prepared to take action." As far as those evacuating, city shelters will provide cots, blankets, food and beverages. "They will get basically a cot, blanket, pillow and a 'comfort kit,' which has
things like shampoo, soap, a toothbrush and toothpaste," Schrader said. "We encourage people to bring their own, but one will be provided,
if needed. They will get three meals a day as long as they are staying there, and there will be mental
health counselors, as well as nurses onsite to treat minor injuries and because, for some people, this is a very traumatic experience for them."
Evacuating residents are asked to bring to shelters a "go bag" of emergency supplies, with suggested items including:
– A portable, waterproof container stocked with copies of important documents, including insurance cards, photo IDs, birth certificates, deeds and proof of address.
– Extra supplies of medications with a list of their names, dosages and when to take them.
– Contact information for doctors and other members of one's household, as well as a predetermined meeting place for family members
– Personal care items like hand sanitizer, toothbrushes, toothpaste and wipes
– Child care supplies
– An extra set of car and house keys
– Cash in small bills, and / or credit and ATM cards
– Flashlights, battery-operated radios and extra batteries
– Battery-operated radios and extra batteries
– Comfortable shoes and lightweight rain gear
Pets are welcome at shelters. Those who evacuate with their pets are advised to bring supplies, including any necessary pet food, identification, carriers, leashes and veterinarian records. "All nine shelters are pet-friendly, so people can bring their pets to the shelter," Schrader said. "The pets will be kept either in the same building, most likely, or if not in the same building, in an adjacent building, but not in the same room as the general population. Cheltenham High and Pottstown High in Montgomery County will have veterinarians onsite all the time. If an animal has special needs, those are probably the best places to go."
Those who do not live in flood-prone areas are advised to stay inside their homes. "Please stay inside during the greatest extent that you can during the height of the storm, Monday into Tuesday," Nutter said. "This is a very serious weather event." Residents are asked to stay off roadways and reminded to never drive into a flooded street – a mere foot of moving water can sweep the average car off the road – and never walk into flood water that is deeper than knee-high. "Do not try to drive through high water," Schrader said. "It's probably deeper than you think. More people die form flooding than from actual events, themselves."
Those who are not evacuating are advised to:
– Fill car tanks with gas.
– Refill any necessary medications and make sure to have glasses or extra contact lenses on-hand, as well as copies of important documents like insurance papers.
– Protect windows with permanent storm shutters or with 5/8-inch cut-to-fit marine plywood. Tape does not prevent windows from breaking.
– Bring all loose outdoor objects, like lawn furniture and garbage cans, inside or securely tie them down.
– Ensure that trees and shrubs surrounding one's house are well-pruned and loose or clogged rain gutters and downspouts are cleaned out.
– Fill out a household emergency plan with family contacts and the safest route to higher ground from homes or places of work in case unexpected evacuation is required.
– Assemble a home emergency kit with enough supplies for all household members, including pets. Make sure it contains a gallon of water per person per day, a working flashlight and a portable radio with extra batteries so emergency alerts can be monitored in the case of a power outage.
– Those living in flood-prone areas who don't plan to evacuate should keep on hand home protection materials such as sandbags, plywood, plastic sheeting and lumber.
– Use a home phone that plugs into a phone jack and does not rely on electricity to function.
– Have ready a supply of bottled water for everyone in the household in the event of a water service outage.
Schrader said there are still a few things residents can do to brace themselves for the storm. "It's probably pretty late to be making last minute preparations, but if you don't have water or don't have a plan to go someplace and need to evacuate, I suggest you do these two things now: Get nonperishable food and a can opener that's not electric," he said. "And here's the most effective tip: Set your fridge or freezer to the coldest setting so if the power goes out, your food will stay colder longer. And eat the food from the fridge first if your power does go out so that perishables don't go bad."
The Benjamin Franklin Bridge, Walt Whitman Bridge and Betsy Ross Bridge will be closed to motorcycle and empty trailer traffic if sustained winds reach 40 to 45 mph. In that event, the Commodore Barry Bridge will be closed to all trucks, trailers and motorcycles. Both of the Ben Franklin's pedestrian walkways will be closed Monday and Tuesday.
All Philadelphia School District schools and administrative offices, as well as early childhood and after school programs, are closed tomorrow. Check the District website for the latest updates.
N.J. Transit is implementing a gradual shutdown of its entire system beginning at 4 p.m. today. All state offices in Pennsylvania and New Jersey will be closed tomorrow. All inmate visits at all jails in the Philadelphia Prison System are suspended Monday and Tuesday, and all evening programs are cancelled through Wednesday.
The University of Pennsylvania, Villanova, Drexel and Temple universities have cancelled all classes and will be closed Monday and Tuesday.
The city's 311 Call Center has extended its operating hours to be available around the clock to provide storm preparation advice. Residents are asked to call 911 only in the case of emergencies, and to call 311 for all other issues. Philadelphia's Emergency Operations Center will be partially activated at 4 p.m. today and fully activated at 6 a.m. tomorrow.
In the case of outages, call your energy provider. PECO Customer Service can be reached at 1-800-494-4000 and its emergency hotline is 1-800-841-4141. The Philadelphia Water Department can be reached at 215-685-6300 and the number for Philadelphia Gas Works is 215-235-1212.
The American Red Cross also has a handy hurricane app that can be downloaded for free on iPhones and Androids. "It gives you all types of information," Schrader said. "It tracks the hurricane for you, offers tips on how prepare – what to do during and after the hurricane – there's minor first aid information in there, a flashlight built into it. If you did evacuate and phone lines are down, it allows you to automatically update your Facebook and Twitter status to say, 'I'm okay,' so your friends and family know you're alright."