EAGLEVILLE — Tropical Storm Isaias battered Montgomery County on Tuesday, leaving a trail of destruction that included floods and power outages and leading county officials to issue an emergency declaration.
“The importance of the declaration of a disaster emergency from the county will allow us to collect data on any damage … and should the federal government or the governor declare a state of emergency in our region from this storm then that gives us the legal mechanism to request reimbursement both for the response that the county had, which was quite extensive, as well as for individual property owners who’ve had property damaged,” county Commissioners’ Chairwoman Dr. Valerie Arkoosh explained during a Wednesday news briefing.
The county’s 911 Emergency Dispatch Center in Eagleville received a total of 5,097 calls on Tuesday, according to Arkoosh. On a typical day, the center receives between 2,200 and 2,300 calls, officials said.
“First to arrive was the torrential rain which resulted in both severe flash flooding on our roadways and significant river flooding and in our creeks and streams. Our emergency responders performed 134 water rescues across the county, pulling stranded commuters from their vehicles and ferrying residents from their homes,” said Arkoosh, who was joined at the briefing by fellow Commissioner Kenneth E. Lawrence Jr.
Arkoosh said the Perkiomen Creek rose to levels not seen in more than 106 years while a rainfall total of more than 8.5 inches was measured in Lower Merion Township.
Rainfall amounts associated with Isaias in the county, according to the National Weather Service, included 8.59 inches in Wynnewood; 8.0 inches in Skippack and Collegeville; 7.56 inches in Worcester; 7.46 inches in Gilbertsville; 6.14 inches in Ambler; 6.12 inches in New Hanover; 6.08 inches in Norristown; 6.07 inches in Royersford; 5.57 inches in Upper Providence; 5.46 inches in Graterford; 5.03 inches in Pottstown; 5.02 inches in Worcester; and 4.36 inches in Fort Washington.
“Around mid-day strong winds joined the rain, toppling hundreds of trees and pulling down numerous utility lines,” Arkoosh said.
The treacherous conditions knocked out power to about 65,000 residents in Montgomery County. As of 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, about 10,500 customers countywide still remained without power, officials said.
Arkoosh said a maximum wind gust of 50 mph was recorded at 1:35 p.m. Tuesday in Upper Dublin Township.
“In addition, the National Weather Service has placed two separate areas under investigation for possible tornado activity,” Arkoosh said. “Apparently, there are two fairly long lines of potential activity that crossed multiple townships.”
The National Weather Service in Mount Holly, N.J., on Wednesday confirmed a tornado touched down in Worcester Township on Tuesday. A final assessment including an EF-Scale rating on the tornado is expected to be completed but will likely take several days to complete, officials said.
Tragically, the storm also claimed the life of a 5-year-old Towamencin girl, Eliza Talal, who went missing on Tuesday and whose body was discovered Wednesday morning at Fischer's Park.
At 12:11 p.m. Tuesday, a 911 caller reported observing a person they believed was swept into the Schuylkill River near the Spring Mill train station in Whitemarsh. First responders from Montgomery and Philadelphia counties conducted ground and water searches but did not locate anybody.
Officials said the Pennsylvania National Guard also deployed a Pennsylvania Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team to conduct aerial searches of the river between Montgomery County and Philadelphia. The unit conducted an extensive search for a subject in the river but was unable to locate anyone and the search was ultimately called off late Tuesday.
A day after the storm swept through the region, members of the Montgomery County Department of Public Safety were out assessing damages in at least six municipalities, primarily located along the Perkiomen Creek.
“The damage assessment that’s happening is really our emergency management staff going out and documenting what happened,” Todd Stieritz, public affairs coordinator for the Department of Public Safety, said on Wednesday.
County officials were canvassing Collegeville Borough, Green Lane Borough and Perkiomen, Skippack, Marlborough and Towamencin townships, according to Stieritz.
“Certainly the close proximity to the Perkiomen Creek is a factor. We are aware that flooding from the creek certainly occurred there,” Stieritz said.
Arkoosh and Stieritz recommended that residents who sustained damage to their properties should initially contact their township or borough officials, who will compile local damage reports and then submit them to county public safety officials who will perform damage assessments. The damage assessments would be helpful if any state or federal emergency financial assistance potentially becomes available.
“Document everything and notify your township or borough, even if you do have insurance, so that we can get an overall picture of the extent of damages and possibly connect you with resources to help,” Arkoosh explained.
Residents should also get in contact with their insurance companies, Stieritz said.
“That’s something that doesn’t always occur to people as the first thing to do after they’ve experienced damage from a storm,” Stieritz said. “People think they have to clean up right away, but besides mitigating any significant life safety hazards, they should get in contact with their insurance companies and document everything that happened. That includes taking pictures or videos as well as jotting down notes on what happened and when it happened.”
Stieritz said storm damage victims also must be mindful of potential hazards that come with post-flood cleanup.
“When floodwaters come into a home or business they bring with them any of the hazardous chemicals that would be in any home or business, anything that people had stored in their garages, under their sinks, all that stuff is now in the floodwaters,” Stieritz warned. “So people should treat any area of their home or business that was flooded as if they’ve been touched by a hazardous chemical. So they should use proper safety equipment, including gloves and disinfectant and eye protection when performing any cleanup.”
Although the power outage numbers decreased significantly by Wednesday afternoon there still were a large number of customers in Montgomery County that were without power. Those affected by outages have electric services with PECO, PPL and Met-Ed/First Energy.
“We like to remind people that you never go near a downed power line, especially with any pooling of water on people’s property that can pose a hazard for that person,” Stieritz said.
“If the power outage for some individuals continues for hours into days, we remind people that you never use a generator indoors and also exercise extreme caution when using candles because of the significant fire hazard that they pose,” Stieritz added.