WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf today provided an update on the multi-agency response to the strong winter storm that hit the eastern part of the state yesterday and through the night, including the opening of I-380 and I-84 with traffic moving slowly to clear trapped queues.
Further, the commonwealth is working to provide any requested support for private utility companies working to restore power.
“Multiple state agencies, under the coordination of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, are responding to this powerful storm and its consequences, and are making progress,” Wolf said in an emailed news release. “I am in contact with Rick Flinn, director of PEMA, and other cabinet officials at PennDOT, Pennsylvania State Police, Pennsylvania National Guard and others, including the Pennsylvania Public Utilities Commission, and can assure the public that each agency is focused on efforts to help Pennsylvanians affected by this storm.
Wolf thanked all the first responders, plow drivers, utility workers, law enforcement, firefighters and emergency management officials that worked through the night and into this morning to respond to “an unprecedented nor’easter” with high winds and difficult conditions.
Wolf said as roads continue to be cleared, the commonwealth’s response will continue with earnest to ensure private utility companies have resources and support for their ongoing efforts to restore power. Approximately 445,000 customers remain without power down from nearly 600,000 customers affected at the peak of the storm.
As of 11 a.m., personnel from the following agencies, staffing the Commonwealth Response Coordination Center at PEMA, provided the following updates:
PennDOT crews are working actively to clear the snow in and around trapped motorist queues, which involves using plow trucks and manual shoveling to free vehicles.
PennDOT activated the 511PAConnect system for these weather-related incidents and has been communicating with motorists in the area throughout the duration of the storm.
511PAConnect is the commonwealth’s trapped-traveler emergency communications tool that allows incident response teams to communicate via automated phone or text message directly with motorists who are trapped in a roadway backup. The tool also gives emergency crews a clearer picture of who is sitting in a trapped vehicle and where they are, so agencies can better plan for the use of resources.
More than 250 people registered for 511PAConnect alerts in the Interstate 80 closure area; more than 130 people registered for alerts in the I-380 closure area; and hundreds registered for I-81 and Turnpike closures that occurred last night.
Currently PennDOT has Mobile Equipment Teams (MET) engaged as follows:
• Equipment and staff were moved from throughout the six-county Allentown-based region to assist in Monroe County.
• Five trucks with one operator each and an Assistant County Manager from Lebanon County were dispatched to Pike County early this morning.
• Three trucks with one operator each from Columbia County were dispatched to Pike County early this morning.
• A grader, a truck and one operator each were dispatched from York County to Monroe County late last night and will remain as long as necessary.
• Two trucks and four operators from Northumberland County were dispatched to Pike County until midnight last night.
Coordination with emergency officials and utility companies will continue to be crucial as PennDOT works to clear debris and snow while maintaining safety of workers and the traveling public.
“We have been actively engaged throughout the storm and coordination with our emergency and utility partners will continue as we clear debris,” said PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards. “We have moved resources from other areas and we were facing the same challenging conditions that motorists faced throughout the storm.”
Richards added that there were repeated attempts to reopen roadways throughout the closures but vehicles would become disabled and close the roadway again. Traffic was detoured when there were safe, viable alternatives that weren’t blocked by downed trees or utilities.
Pennsylvania National Guard
Approximately 65 National Guard soldiers are on the ground in those counties most heavily affected, with more arriving throughout the day.
Soldiers are performing wellness checks, assisting county and State Police personnel, and using large heavy-duty vehicles capable of moving large vehicles, such as tractor trailers, from trapped roadways, including I-380, to allow passage of all vehicles.
Pennsylvania State Police
State Police Troopers were outside on foot overnight, walking trapped traffic queues to check on stranded travelers. Today in Pike County troopers are working with PA National Guard members to check on elderly residents.
The Pennsylvania State Police and Pennsylvania National Guard have conducted hundreds of wellness checks with stranded motorists, which entails visiting each stranded car to be sure people have food and water, and to assess if there are any other needs. These checks, also conducted by county personnel, will continue in all affected areas.
“All efforts to help Pennsylvanians affected by this storm will continue in force,” Wolf said.
Any motorists still affected by the storm should access www.511paconnect.com. Life-threatening emergencies, please call 9-1-1.
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.