The remnants of Hurricane Ida destroyed or damaged hundreds of homes in Southeastern Pennsylvania and caused more than $100 million in public infrastructure damage across the state, officials said Wednesday.
A week after Ida’s heavy rains, severe flooding, and multiple tornadoes, hundreds of residents in Bucks, Chester, and Montgomery Counties and elsewhere remained displaced. Public officials were continuing on-the-ground damage assessments, and Gov. Tom Wolf requested a federal disaster declaration.
“This is devastating,” Wolf said after touring Bridgeport’s Front Street, situated along the Schuylkill, where nearly every home was gutted or severely damaged. “People have lost so much.”
Wolf said federal relief money should soon be on its way and FEMA disaster centers will open in the coming days.
He asked President Joe Biden for aid to help individuals and local governments recover from losses and damage in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Montgomery, Philadelphia, and York Counties. The state must show more than $19.7 million in damage to qualify; the estimate Wednesday had reached $117 million.
Once Biden makes the declaration, affected residents will be able to apply for government assistance. Residents will also be able to apply for help with temporary housing, but officials did not yet have an estimate of how many had been displaced.
» READ MORE: In Pa., assessing damage from Ida, county by county
Wolf’s request had been delayed because of the time it took to gather data about the widespread damage, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency officials said. New Jersey and New York received federal disaster declarations Monday.
Meanwhile, people across the region who lost their cars, had to throw out most of their possessions, or can’t stay in their homes were impatient and desperate for help.
“I wish you’d come to my house!” one man yelled at Wolf as he toured. Another later told the governor: “Come to Norristown! Everything’s still covered in mud.”
At the local Maaco auto body shop, where owner John Terrizzi had set up a tent for victims, Cashay Smith, 29, was sorting through donations to find sneakers for her 2-year-old. She lost everything when her Bridgeport rental home flooded, she said, and she thought the government had been slow to respond.
“They act like they don’t want to help you,” said Smith.
Nearly 400 homes across the southeastern corner of the state were reported to have been destroyed or sustained major damage and 400 more had minor damage — and that assessment did not yet include all of Bucks, Chester, or Delaware Counties.
In Bridgeport alone, 500 people were displaced by the floods, according to Police Chief Todd Bereda.
With every day that passes, the urgency becomes greater for families who are staying in hotels or looking for new homes.
“Individual donors have been incredibly generous, but obviously that well will run dry,” said Bridgeport Borough Manager Keith Truman, who said 150 people in the area have been put up in hotels thanks to donations. “It’s important [that] federal money get here, and as soon as humanly possible.”
To the east, Bucks County Commissioners were taking stock of the devastation there, while local officials met with agents from the state’s emergency management office.
“Some people’s lives have been completely turned upside down,” Commissioner Diane Ellis-Marseglia said Wednesday, surveying the receding banks of the Neshaminy Creek near the borough of Hulmeville, which last week crested at more than 20 feet.
She said she worries about insurance payouts: The county has gotten calls from residents concerned their carriers won’t accept their natural-disaster claims.
Curt Dawson, owner of Neshaminy Shore Picnic Park, said he hoped to get government relief. He said last week’s flooding split his dock in two and carried away a massive wooden gazebo.
“Insurance doesn’t cover anything but the buildings,” he said, speaking from experience, including what he learned when filing claims after Hurricane Irene in 2011. “The copper fencing or picnic tables or gazebo stuff, that’s all out of pocket for me.”
Philadelphia officials were still working Wednesday to assess storm damage and asked residents and business owners to report damage at phila.gov/oem/storm.
PEMA had to dispatch people to survey the damage in person — rather than using aerial images, which can capture the impact more quickly if standing floodwater remains over large swaths of land. That was one reason it took a week for Pennsylvania to request the federal declaration, PEMA Director Randy Padfield said.
With Wolf sending the request Wednesday, though, Padfield said storm victims “should know federal help will be coming.”
The tornadoes, rain, and floods caused more than 110,000 power outages, problems at more than 60 water and wastewater plants, and pushed two dams close to failure, Wolf said in his letter to Biden. Ida’s rainfall broke records in multiple places in the state, the arc from Chester through Montgomery and Bucks Counties “exceptionally intense and rare.” Some places saw as much rain in the single event as they normally do in one or two months.
American Red Cross spokesperson Dave Skutnik recommended that residents come to the resource centers that opened Wednesday at the Montgomery County Intermediate Unit in Norristown and the United Sports Training Center in Downingtown. They will be open again Thursday for residents to get assistance from government agencies.
In New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy urged residents in the counties under the disaster declaration — Gloucester, Bergen, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Passaic, and Somerset — to apply for the direct federal aid at disasterassistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-3362.
The state is working to expedite additional disaster assessments, and Murphy asked residents outside of the six counties to report storm damage at nj.gov/ida. That not only will help the state make the case for aid to the federal government, he said, but will also expedite people’s claims if the disaster declaration is granted for their area.
Noting that all 27 deaths reported in New Jersey occurred in floods, not tornadoes, Murphy asked residents to stay home if the bad weather forecast for the region Wednesday night materialized.
“We’re not entirely out of the woods. I can’t even believe we’re talking about this, so here goes: We are at risk for some severe storms this evening,” Murphy said. “If your phone goes off with a flash flood or tornado warning, take it seriously. Do not try to go out in any storm.”
Back in Bridgeport, Wolf stopped and talked to residents on the mud-stained streets as generators buzzed. As in other towns across the region, high-water marks were still visible on homes and businesses around the area. Dumpsters filled with home debris and soaked personal belongings lined the streets.
“It was our little paradise,” said David Fletcher, who just moved in a year ago to a house on Front Street with a backyard and aboveground pool. He told Wolf he just learned recently his renter’s insurance doesn’t cover natural disasters.
Elliot Palmer, 58, and his cat, Juice, were evacuated by boat in the middle of the night, among 75 boat rescues and 300 evacuations in Bridgeport during the storm. With Juice riding along in a backpack, Palmer showed the governor his ruined home.
Said Palmer, “When you work for something, to see it all gone in the blink of an eye — it hurts.”
Staff writers Erin McCarthy, Oona Goodin-Smith, and Laura McCrystal contributed to this article.