Food buried in the snow, shopping, living with the in-laws: Philadelphia-area residents cope without power
Amy Seiler was at work when a neighbor called Friday afternoon to tell her there was a fire in the street behind her house in Bryn Mawr. A large tree had fallen across Clyde Road, pulling down wires and a transformer that burst into flames.
On Monday, Seiler and her husband, Mark, were still dealing with the aftermath of Friday’s nor’easter: charging their phones in their car, sitting in front of the gas fireplace and wondering when the power will finally come back on.
“It’s so bad,” Seiler, an account executive for Telesystem, said Monday. “This is the worst it’s been.”
More than 30,000 people in the Philadelphia area still had no power Monday evening, more than 72 hours after the storm ripped through the region. Some have been riding out the storm’s cold aftermath in their homes, aided by gas fireplaces or generators. Others have packed area hotels or taken refuge with relatives.
“Luckily, we had family with power,” said Candace Schoengold, who lost power at her Newtown Square home at 4 p.m. Friday. With her son, who is almost three, in tow, Schoengold left for New Jersey on Saturday — after her neighbors chainsawed their way through downed trees that had been blocking the road. By Monday, she had returned to Pennsylvania and was staying in Wynnewood with her in-laws, who had lost but regained power.
Schoengold stayed home from work Monday because “I had to care for my little guy,” she said. Her mother usually watches her son — but she didn’t have power, either.
“Hopefully we’ll have power back later,” said Schoengold, who expected Monday to spend an additional night at her in-laws’.
About 630,000 of Peco’s 1.6 million electrical customers were affected by Friday’s storm — ranking among the worst outages in recent history. The utility projected the “overwhelming majority” of its customers across the region would have their service restored by Monday evening, spokesman Thomas J. Walsh said Monday.
“We do anticipate, however, that there will be some customers in the most heavily damaged areas who will have service restored around mid-week,” Walsh said. “We have pockets of customers in more severely damaged areas around the entire region.”
The Ithan Mills development in Bryn Mawr — where Seiler lives — appeared to be one of those pockets. Seiler, who has been going out to eat and shopping at the King of Prussia Mall with her husband since the power went out, spent Sunday morning at a crowded laundromat in Broomall where everyone was talking about the storm.
“Honestly it seemed to be a topic of conversation everywhere,” she said Monday. “Walking in stores everybody is asking, do you have power?”
Seiler hasn’t yet opened her refrigerator or freezer “so I have no idea what to expect at all,” she said.
The downed tree behind Amy Seiler’s home in Bryn Mawr
Roy Perry, who also lives in Ithan Mills, has been doing a lot of grilling — turkey, chicken and vegetables — then putting the cooked food in containers that he keeps in the garage at night and buries in the snow or somewhere else cool during the day.
Peco told him power wouldn’t be back until Monday at midnight, so he was wondering Monday what to do with the shrimp and cheese he still has left.
“I’ll just keep grilling,” said Perry, who was at the Haverford YMCA to charge, shower and shave. He spent Sunday night at Flip & Bailey’s, a restaurant and bar in nearby Rosemont where both the Sixers and Oscars were on TV.
“That was fun. I told my daughter if it wasn’t for the sleeping part I wouldn’t need a house at all,” he said.
Perry, with a more serious tone, said living without power gives him some perspective on what’s it like for people who have much bigger problems, like the residents of Puerto Rico.
“I can’t really compare myself to them but there’s a little window that I get when you lose something important. It makes me realize what it’s like to lose everything,” he said. “I feel a little humbled by it.”
Store managers reported high demand for generators and other supplies. After the Home Depot in Lansdale got 60 generators in on Saturday, “they were gone in the afternoon,” said Mark Light, a manager at the store.
Hotel rooms also booked up fast. The Holiday Inn Lansdale was at capacity over the weekend, “which is not usual,” said manager Deanna Perry. At least 60 percent of the hotel was occupied by people dealing with power outages, she said.
At the Radnor Hotel, all 171 rooms have been booked since Friday with a wait list through Wednesday, said Louis Prevost, the general manager of the hotel.
Not on that list is John Ricciutti of Radnor. He and his wife have stayed at hotels during past power outages, and their children invited them to stay with them. But Ricciutti, a former SEPTA transportation director who is now a producer for public television, is concerned about leaving his house open to burglaries.
“I’d rather stay in our house and tough it out,” Ricciutti said. He’s finding ways to stay entertained — “I can read Vanity Fair and Architectural Digest off my Nook” — although he would have liked to watch the Oscars Sunday. As for showers, he and his wife are boiling water on the stove.
The worst part of not having power, Ricciutti said, “is the silence. The absolute silence.”
Power has been restored to Bridget Gillen’s house in Springfield Township, but that doesn’t mean things are back to normal. Gillen, who took her three kids to her mother-in-law’s in West Chester after waking up without power Saturday morning, returned to her house Sunday to pick up clothes for the week.
That’s when she learned her basement had flooded. “I went downstairs to grab something and stepped into ankle deep water,” Gillen said. With the power out, her sump pump was off, “and then our backup didn’t kick in like it was supposed to.” She’s waiting for the water to drain to assess the damage.
In addition to Peco crews, Pennsylvania has also dispatched resources to assist in cleanup. State police on Monday manned 12 intersections in Delaware County where the power was down, while a state chainsaw team worked to remove trees, said John McBlain, chairman of the Delaware County council.
“Aside from the damage to houses and trees down, which people will have to deal with as we go on, certainly the largest issue is restoring power,” McBlain said. More calls were coming in Monday to the county’s 911 center from people with chronic medical issues still without power. “We do encourage people … call 911 and we will direct you somewhere,” McBlain said.
While the outages are dragging on for those still in the dark, some residents said they had endured worse.
Perry, of Ithan Mills in Bryn Mawr, recalled that back in the ’90s, the neighborhood lost power for 12 days. Everybody moved out, except his neighbors, who took pictures of life off the grid – making fires, scrambling eggs on the grill.
“This is nothing,” Perry said.