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Storm cleanup continues after Ida: ‘People have come through’

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy reported two more deaths resulting from the storm, raising the state's total to at least 27.

Irene Reese, 81, has spent all of her life except for six months living in homes on Cox Alley in Downingtown. She had to be rescued by a fire department boat when Ida hit.  On Saturday, she along with so many across the region continued cleaning up from the storm's ravages.
Irene Reese, 81, has spent all of her life except for six months living in homes on Cox Alley in Downingtown. She had to be rescued by a fire department boat when Ida hit. On Saturday, she along with so many across the region continued cleaning up from the storm's ravages.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

On Saturday morning, Chester County resident Bruce Harlan gathered with neighbors on a flood-hit Downingtown street, forming crews for a third day of storm cleanup. They fanned out on Brandywine Avenue, cleaning waterlogged basements, clearing trash, and sorting damaged possessions.

With the workweek over, dozens showed up to help their neighbors confront the devastating aftermath of Wednesday night. Harlan estimated up to 150 people came in response to Facebook posts. By late afternoon, his phone was still dinging constantly with offers of help or donations.

“People have come through to step up in the community to help out, and that is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” said Harlan, 38, who put up a Facebook post on a community page Wednesday night saying he was going to go help people hit by the flooding and ended up helping lead three days of cleanup. “It was unbelievable the amount of unity that went on there.”

Across the region, similar cleanup and donation efforts proliferated Saturday, two days after the region woke up to destruction wrought by the remnants of Hurricane Ida. For many, the damage meant Labor Day weekend would be one of cleanup, recovery, and uncertainty.

Residents in towns like Bridgeport, Montgomery County, gathered at homes of neighbors who needed help cleaning. People posted on community Facebook groups offering any help they could, from washing clothes to towing trash to delivering food.

Churches and community centers were amassing donations, and fund-raisers for families were springing up. Coatesville Community and Area Parents had raised more than $17,000 on GoFundMe for food, shelter, water, supplies, and long-term recovery.

“Our individual communities have banded together as an incredible force to rescue people, care for people and meet the needs of those whose homes, businesses … lives … have been devastated,” the Chester County commissioners wrote in a Saturday message to residents. “These efforts have been nothing short of amazing.”

“Now that the waters have receded, the next phase of our community response begins,” the commissioners said.

» READ MORE: How officials in Philly are cleaning up after Ida, from the Vine Street Expressway to Manayunk

President Joe Biden made plans to travel to New Jersey and New York on Tuesday to see storm damage, and New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy spent part of Saturday speaking with residents who endured flooding in Piscataway, Middlesex County.

Two more deaths in New Jersey, of residents of Mercer and Somerset Counties, were announced by the governor Saturday evening. The state’s reported death toll was 27, and four people remain missing, Murphy said.

Officials in the Philadelphia region have reported five deaths. Between New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut, more than 50 people were killed by the storm, and billions of dollars in damage were estimated.

“On Tuesday, @POTUS and I will survey devastating damage from Tropical Storm Ida in Manville,” Murphy tweeted Saturday. “We’re grateful for the President’s leadership and support as we recover from this storm. Together, we will help New Jerseyans rebuild.”

On Saturday, Montgomery County officials announced they would set up a disaster center in Norristown where residents can get help from relief organizations, government agencies, and elected officials.

The center will be open Wednesday from noon to 7 p.m. and Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit on West Lafayette Street.

Officials across the region asked residents to report damage to their municipalities or counties, including Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Philadelphia Counties.

Chester County officials reported that four first responders had been injured during rescues, and said they carried out more than 300 water rescues.

As the Made in America festival opened on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, crews toiled blocks away on I-676.

After PennDot crews worked overnight to pump the remaining water off the road, both sides were opened Saturday morning from Broad Street to I-95.

By midafternoon, the eastbound Vine Street Expressway had fully reopened, but the westbound side remained closed from Broad Street to I-76. That side was covered in more debris and would take longer to clear, PennDot spokesperson Brad Rudolph said.

Crews were at work on the muddied roadway, its yellow and white lane lines slowly reappearing as sediment and debris were cleared away. The highway was reopened in both directions Saturday evening, though PennDot said motorists can expect some ramp and lane closures over the next few days to weeks for repairs.

Kelly Drive also remained closed Saturday, along with many roads in the suburbs. Service on SEPTA’s Manayunk-Norristown and Cynwyd Regional Rail lines was still suspended, expected to resume Tuesday on a limited schedule.

The Schuylkill River Trail also faced extensive cleanup from Philadelphia to the suburbs, with tree branches, plastic trash, leaves, and detritus caught in its fencing in parts, tree limbs downed, and the trail muddied and debris-strewn.

The Philadelphia, Montgomery, and Chester County portions of the trail were hit much harder than the Berks and Schuylkill County sections, said Elaine Paul Schaefer, executive director of Schuylkill River Greenways, which maintains the trail in the latter two counties.

“The damage was trees down, branches down, obstruction to the trail and some mud, but nothing like what they’re suffering down in Philly and Manayunk,” she said Saturday. “In Philly, they are asking for volunteers to help clean. A lot of it is just getting the gunk off the trail that the river brought on and dumped.”

Lingering power and water issues affected some residents across the greater region.

About 5,500 people in Montgomery County were still without power as of Saturday afternoon, the county said. In Lower Bucks County, the Levittown area remained under a boil-water advisory.

Aqua asked Southeastern Pennsylvania customers to continue conserving water as crews worked to restore normal operations at water plants that were damaged by the storm.

“It will take some time for full recovery to take place but every bit helps your communities,” the company said in a Saturday morning tweet.

» READ MORE: A timeline of Ida's Philly destruction

In Downingtown, Saturday was Harlan’s crew’s biggest turnout yet, with about 75 people heading to Brandywine Avenue with Harlan and another 75 around Viaduct Avenue with co-organizer Jackie Sharp, he said. Next, they hope to collect donations to pay for hotel rooms and give out furniture and appliances.

They met many who were overwhelmed by the damage to their homes and the loss of their possessions. Harlan, of Glenmoore, who was born and raised in Downingtown and owns a construction company, said he was blown away by the community effort and inspired by the goodness of others.

He recalled one older couple, whom residents helped earlier in the week in the Johnstown section, tearing out their waterlogged carpet.

“The guy could not believe how many people showed up at his house to help him. He just started crying, like he was so thankful that people cared,” Harlan said. “That’s what I saw a lot was love. It was pure love there.”

Staff writer Harold Brubaker contributed to this article.