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In Pa., assessing damage from Ida, county by county

Residents of East Whiteland and Charlestown Townships are being told to boil their water for safety.

Debris from homes pile up on Walnut Street in Mont Clare after devastating floods from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. This is in front of the home of Chris and Hillary Sell. Tuesday, September 7, 2021.
Debris from homes pile up on Walnut Street in Mont Clare after devastating floods from the remnants of Hurricane Ida. This is in front of the home of Chris and Hillary Sell. Tuesday, September 7, 2021.Read moreSTEVEN M. FALK / Staff Photographer

The winds have died down and the waters have receded.

But now, whatever was knocked over, flooded, or broken by last week’s storm is being assessed to make a ripped-up region whole again.

Aqua Pennsylvania, which serves an estimated one million people in Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, and Bucks Counties, “urgently” asked its customers to conserve water in the wake of storm damage that shut down one of the company’s water-treatment plants in Phoenixville.

In addition, the company is continuing an advisory to boil water issued last week for East Whiteland and Charlestown Townships, both in Chester County, with populations of around 12,000 and 6,000, respectively.

Aqua Pennsylvania president Marc Lucca asked people to “discontinue all nonessential water use.”

Meanwhile, across the region Tuesday, county and local workers were calculating damage. It was too early to know the scope of the destruction, the number of people displaced, or the estimated cost of repairs.

“It’s going to take the rest of this week, at least, to go through,” said Bucks County Commissioner Bob Harvie. “In a lot of cases, you’re going house to house.”

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, officials estimated that full recovery from flooding of the Schuylkill, which was worst in Manayunk and Center City, will take months.

There were no storm-related deaths or missing people reported in Philadelphia. But spokesperson Kevin Lessard said the city still doesn’t have a full count of the number of those injured or displaced.

The city’s Department of Licenses & Inspections continued to gauge structural damage to buildings, saying that more than 700 properties were affected by flooding. Fewer than 10 are unsafe, and none are imminently dangerous, Lessard said.

Throughout the region, counties will submit damage assessments, which will determine the amount of aid to be disbursed.

Moving painstakingly Tuesday, five teams worked their way through Montgomery County, each with one representative from the public safety department and people from FEMA, PEMA, and the Small Business Administration in tow.

On Wednesday and Thursday, Chester and Montgomery Counties will operate resource centers where affected residents can speak to representatives from government agencies and seek assistance. Chester County’s will be at the United Sports Training Center in Downingtown; Montgomery County’s will be at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit in Norristown.

Montgomery County officials said that residents whose home deeds were destroyed in the flooding can get free certified copies by calling the Recorder of Deeds office.

Cleanup in Bridgeport

In a scene that likely played out, in one form or another, throughout the region Tuesday, a U-Haul truck sat outside Joan Burke’s house on Third Street in Bridgeport. Her son, nephew, and husband loaded all possessions they could salvage.

The family was preoccupied with two questions: What can we save? And what will we do next?

Burke and most of her neighbors are sleeping in hotels, but she said her money would run out by Friday. Beyond that, she was upset because her home health nurse hasn’t been able to visit her and her husband.

“It gets me frustrated even talking about it,” said Burke, 57. “I don’t have a car no more. It floated away. All my stuff I worked hard for and bought — everything’s gone.”

One block over, Antoinette Austin-Hunt, with a family of seven, acknowledged that everyone was uneasy and uncertain.

“Nobody has a plan B,” she said.

A live fish in the yard

On Walnut Street in Mont Clare, a small village in Montgomery County’s Upper Providence Township, residents were facing their sixth day without electricity.

On Tuesday afternoon, trash bags bulged with the detritus of destroyed belongings, and the constant hum of generators vibrated.

Marina Stoilova emerged from her basement, her legs and feet covered with the thick brown muck left behind by 6-foot floodwaters that forced her, her husband, and their 7-year-old daughter to be rescued by a boat early Thursday.

After the effort to remove mud busted three pumps Stoilova, 43, resorted to filling up paint buckets with it, lugging them up and down the stairs. When she emptied one bucket into the yard, a living bluegill fish poured out.

The family, which immigrated to the United States five years ago from Bulgaria, has no flood insurance.

“This is a disaster,” said Stoilova.

Local volunteers moved from house to house, asking how they can help their neighbors. Residents have donated upward of $10,000 in materials, including generators, N95 masks, and construction bags. The Spring-Ford High School football team, along with teachers and administrators from other local schools, spent the morning helping homeowners along the block.

Boiling water

Offering information to help the residents of East Whiteland and Charlestown Townships deal with their water crisis, an Aqua Pennsylvania spokesperson said Tuesday afternoon that customers should boil any water they would drink or otherwise use for cooking and brushing their teeth. A boil alert is usually issued when water pressure falls so low in parts of the system that bacteria could enter the pipes, a water-industry expert said. People can often still shower with the water, the expert said.

Some initial confusion arose about Aqua Pennsylvania’s boil alert. People were mistakenly told to boil water by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection in Malvern, Willistown, East Goshen, Schuylkill, Tredyffrin, East Whiteland, Charlestown, and Easttown in Chester County; Lower Merion, Upper Merion, and West Conshohocken in Montgomery County; and Radnor and Newtown in Delaware County. Officials assured those areas that boiling was not necessary.

During the storm last week, two of Aqua Pennsylvania’s Phoenixville plants, Pickering East and Pickering West, were affected by flooding and power failure, Lucca said.

Pickering East was initially shut down, then went back on line, Lucca said. But Pickering West isn’t running, having sustained heavy damage, most notably to a one million-gallon storage tank.

Since the storm, the Bryn Mawr-based company has been distributing water to those who need it at Charlestown Elementary School, as well as at fire department stations in Berwyn and Paoli, the spokesperson said.

But, said Linda Csete, township manager in Charlestown Township, residents are adjusting as best they can.

“Most people have been able to cope with the situation,” Csete said.

She added that the majority of the township, which is zoned farm-residential, uses well water, and is not affected by the problem.

Csete said, however, that four large subdivisions in town are boiling water for safety.

No difficulties arise in government offices. “We’re so small, it’s no problem bringing in bottles of water each day.”

It was not clear as of Tuesday afternoon when Aqua Pennsylvania could lift the boil-water advisory, the spokesperson said.

Staff writer Andrew Maykuth contributed to this article.