President Obama, Gov. Corbett Declare Pa. Counties a Disaster Area

State and federal help coming to hardest hit neighborhoods

By Vince Lattanzio
|  Wednesday, Feb 12, 2014  |  Updated 11:58 AM EDT
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Peco should have its biggest crew on the job yet Friday trying to restore power to thousands of people in the Philadelphia region.  NBC10's George Spencer tells us about the challenges facing utility crews and residents.

Peco should have its biggest crew on the job yet Friday trying to restore power to thousands of people in the Philadelphia region. NBC10's George Spencer tells us about the challenges facing utility crews and residents.

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A disaster.

That’s how the President of the United States and the Governor of Pennsylvania described the scene in the Pennsylvania suburbs after this week’s ice storm.

President Barack Obama and Pa. Gov. Tom Corbett signed emergency declarations declaring Chester, Montgomery, Delaware, Bucks and Philadelphia counties disaster areas. Both moves opened up state and federal resources for aid in areas where hundreds of thousands of people remain in the dark more than a day after the storm moved out.

On Thursday, Corbett toured sections of Whitpain Township, Montgomery County – one of the areas hit hardest by downed trees and power lines that left residents and businesses in the dark. Crews from PECO Energy, the region’s largest power supplier, showed the governor how some of the more than 3,500 utility workers are attacking the downed lines. Some of those crews came from as far away as Arkansas, Illinois and Canada.

“I have activated the resources of twelve state agencies and this morning was notified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) that my request for support services from the federal government has been approved,” Corbett said. “The effects of this storm are as significant as those experienced during Hurricane Sandy.”

With Obama’s disaster declaration comes the support of FEMA. Corbett said some of the first relief the agency will be providing will come in the form of generators that can be used at hospitals, nursing homes and other institutional facilities.

At the height of the storm, nearly 850,000 Pennsylvania power customers had their electricity service severed. Adding in outages in Delaware and New Jersey, the number climbed closer to 875,000 customers.

PECO set a record for the number of outages brought on by a winter storm. The energy company also said the storm was the second largest service disruption in its history.

"This is the second-largest storm in terms of customer interruptions that we've had right behind Sandy," said PECO spokesman Greg Smore.

With crews working quickly to reconnect people to the grid, the number of outages dropped below 290,000 customers by Friday morning. But there is still much work to accomplish, officials say.

"A lot of the wires are tangled up in the trees," said Bob Kagel, deputy director of emergency management for Chester County, which was ground zero for outages.

Officials warn that some of the damage was so severe that it could take crews until the weekend to get the power turned back on. That equates to more cold nights in homes that rely on electric heat.

And with people trying to find other ways to keep warm, carbon monoxide poisoning has become a concern due to the use of grills and generators in the home. In Bucks County alone, about 40 people have come down with CO-like illnesses, according to officials.

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