Hurricane Sandy brings two more deaths to the Lehigh Valley as more than 200,000 homes remain without power

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The local impact of Hurricane Sandy became more catastrophic for the Lehigh Valley with the deaths of two more people, bringing the region's death toll to four as of Wednesday morning.

A Lower Macungie Township woman died from the fumes from a portable gas generator left running in the garage attached to her home, and a South Whitehall Township woman died from exposure in her yard, according to the Lehigh County coroner's office.

Tammy Kerosetz, 48, of the 3600 block of Schoeneck Road, was pronounced dead in her home 5:08 p.m. Tuesday of carbon monoxide poisoning, but the coroner's office said she died before 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Theresa Schlitzer, 86, was found dead in the yard of her home in the 2400 block of Route 309 Tuesday morning. She was pronounced dead at 9:45 a.m., and the coroner's office attributed her death to hypothermia from prolonged exposure that began some time after 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Their deaths bring the Lehigh Valley area's death toll from Hurricane Sandy to four.

Robert Mills, 17, of Wind Gap, died in Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest after crashing an all-terrain vehicle into a fallen tree on W. Center Street in Plainfield Township 9:30 p.m. Monday, and a 62-year-old Berks County man, Gerald Witman, was killed when a tree fell on his Pike Township home near Boyertown.

At least three other people in Pennsylvania suffered storm-related deaths Monday, and the U.S. death toll was nearing 40, according to The Associated Press.

For the 7.4 million families across the eastern seaboard without electricity, the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy ranged from inconvenient for those who had to scramble for find hot coffee to life-threatening for those who depend on electrical medical devices.

Even for those who didn't lose electricity, didn't suffer property damage, didn't lose a loved one, Monday, Oct. 29, 2012, won't be forgotten — especially for the lucky ones like Joe Konrath.

The Allentown man was stopped at a red light in Bethlehem at W. Union Boulevard and Pennsylvania Avenue while on his way home from work when a tree crashed onto his car.

"It was one of the most scariest things I've experienced in a while," said Konrath, a product manager at Backstage Library Works.

Trying to contain his panic, Konrath dialed 911 on his mobile phone after realizing he couldn't open his car door. He squirmed into the back seat and exited a passenger door.

Police said Konrath could have been crushed if the tree had snapped instead of uprooting as it did, falling in a smooth motion onto the roof of his 2002 Chevy Malibu.

"I feel extremely, extremely fortunate," said Konrath, who stayed home for the remainder of the storm with his wife and daughter and without losing power as millions of others did.

ELECTRIC POWER

Gov. Tom Corbett said the state, like Konrath, had "dodged a bullet" despite the deaths, massive power outages and damage to buildings from wind and water.

Around 1.25 million Pennsylvania utility customers, primarily in southeastern Pennsylvania, were without power as of noon Monday. Nearly 1,000 people sought refuge in one of the dozens of emergency shelters opened in about half of the state's 67 counties.

PPL Electric Utilities and First Energy's Met-Ed, which service most of the Lehigh Valley region, are slowly restoring power to the remaining 197,000 customers still out Wednesday morning in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

To some, it will be extremely slow — up to two weeks — before their power is turned back on.

As of 6:30 a.m. Wednesday, PPL had about 287,000 customers without power throughout its 29-county territory. Of those, about half or 145,244 are in Lehigh and Northampton counties.

Around 2 a.m. Monday, PPL's outage website showed about 450,000 customers out in its territory..

Met-Ed is reporting 144,422 customers out throughout its coverage area in Pennsylvania, including 51,767 in Lehigh and Northampton counties. New Jersey Power Central Power & Light has nearly 1 million customers without power, including about 91,500 in Warren and Hunterdon counties.

Downgraded to a post-tropical storm from a hurricane just before striking near Atlantic City about 8 p.m. Monday, Sandy left a huge swath of destruction as waterways swelled and surged along the coast. In Pennsylvania, including the Lehigh Valley region, the wind brought most of the destruction rather than the rain, which totaled just 1.25 inches in the Lehigh Valley compared to several inches New York and New Jersey.

"For Pennsylvania, it was probably not as bad it could have been," Corbett said. "For New Jersey and New York, it was pretty bad. From a damage standpoint, we're in better shape than we were last year" with Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

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Near hurricane-strength wind gusts, with the local top speed measured in South Allentown at 81 mph Monday night, caused nearly all of the region's Hurricane Sandy headaches as trees and limbs fell into homes, across roads and on power lines and roofs blew away.

No major flooding issues were reported or expected in the aftermath.

Allentown Fire Chief Robert Scheirer said widespread wind damage resulted in more than 60 calls Monday night from residents and business owners with lost or damaged roofs.

In the 600 block of Front Street, wind ripped a roof from an entire row of apartments, and the roof at the city's Mack South Fire Station in the 1900 block of Lehigh Street was also damaged in the storm, Scheirer said.

Few injuries were reported, but five city residents were hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a generator they were using inside their home, he said.

Local governments, schools and colleges remained shuttered, with Lehigh University canceling classes for the remainder of the week. Kutztown and DeSales universities and Cedar Crest, Moravian and Lafayette colleges said they will remain closed Wednesday. Muhlenberg College and Northampton County Community College, except for in Easton, reopened Wednesday.

Many area school districts, including Saucon Valley, Easton Area, Northampton Area, Nazareth Area and Bangor Area school districts canceled classes for a third day.

Major hospitals stayed open throughout the storm, but there was sporadic activity at outpatient and physician offices related to power outages. Hospital officials asked patients to check their web sites for updates on their satellite facilities.

In Easton, the Praxis Alzheimer's facility and Easton Nursing Home on Washington Street evacuated residents to another location because of roof damage, Mayor Sal Panto said.

The Miller-Keystone Blood Center also put out a plea for A-positive, A-negative, O-positive and O-negative blood donors and platelet donors.

RESPONSE AND RECOVERY

To better assess damage in Pennsylvania, Gov Corbett plans tour the state by helicopter Wednesday.

Tuesday afternoon, Corbett toured Fort Indiantown Gap in Lebanon County where supplies to be delivered to stricken counties were being loaded into trucks.

Lt. Col. Robert Hodgson said 2,091 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard had been activated as of Tuesday afternoon.

Life in some places slowly began to return to normal.

Some retailers, such as the Lehigh Valley Mall, reopened after closing early Monday.

Customers in Bucks County streamed into the Richland Township Lowe's home improvement store, which, thanks to a backup generator, was one of the few stores open in the Quakertown area Tuesday afternoon.

Brian Smith, 42, of was in a hurry, his eyes scanning the shelves for a new lower-amp sump pump for his Quakertown home.

His power was out and his basement was close to flooding. "I've got a plug-in for my car, but it's not enough to run my sump pump," said Smith, whose wife Stacy and sons, aged 1 and 4, were home waiting.

Tyrone Hollie and wife Brook Hollie of Coopersburg ventured into Lowes looking for a chain saw after a 20-foot juniper tree in their yard was uprooted in the storm, its roots lifting their propane tanks into the air.

Hollie's son and three other DeSales University students were crashing at their home, where a generator he bought after hurricane Irene flooded his basement last year was providing power.

In previous storms, he ran extension cords to neighbors' homes.

"Now all of those neighbors have generators," he said.

By Tuesday night, most businesses along Route 309 in the Quakertown area were open for businesses with overflowing parking lots.

Lafayette Ambassador, the Valley's No. 3 bank, opened seven of its 23 branches as of Tuesday afternoon. PNC and Wells Fargo banks also said they'd be opening most branches Wednesday.

Many banks are waiving overdraft and late fees, as well as fees for using another bank's ATM, due to the storm damage.

County voter registration offices also are extending the deadlines to obtain absentee ballots under an executive order from the governor.

TRANSPORTATION

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation and Pennsylvania Turnpike officials restored the normal speed limits and removed vehicle restrictions from major state highways and from the toll road.

LANTA restored bus and van service Wednesday morning after transporting only medical patients Monday and Tuesday.

After a full day in which travel from Lehigh Valley International Airport was grounded, Delta and United resumed flights. U.S. Air and Frontier canceled all of their Tuesday flights, said Susan Kittle, director of External Affairs for LVIA.

"We're back on a limited basis today and we hope to be full strength tomorrow," Kittle said. "But all passengers should check the status of their flight with their air carrier, or visit FLYLVIA.Com."

Kittle said the airport suffered no damage, and though the airport remained open through the storm, no passengers were stranded there.

More than 15,000 flights worldwide were canceled, and LaGuardia Airport will remain closed indefinitely.

— Staff writers Tim Darragh, Tracy Jordan, Samantha Marcus, Sam Kennedy, JD Malone, Emily Opilo, Scott Kraus, Spencer Soper, John Micek, Dan Hartzell and Matt Assad and The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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