The frigid weather that has left the Philadelphia region in a deep freeze has contributed to the death of one Montgomery County man and caused thousands of other people to flock to shelters for relief with temperatures expected to hover at arctic levels through the weekend.
In Ambler, Solomon Wynder, 70, was found dead in his one-room apartment after a neighbor called police to check on him Christmas Day, said Alexander Balacki, first deputy coroner in Montgomery County. Although his death was ruled the result of heart disease, the temperature in the apartment was 41 degrees and listed as a contributing factor, Balacki said.
Emergency officials are asking that residents take extra precautions to keep the most vulnerable safe — elderly relatives, children, and pets.
In Philadelphia, hundreds have checked into shelters around the city, where 2,500 beds are available, said David Holloman, director of external affairs for the Office of Homeless Services. The office has outreach workers and police encouraging the homeless to move indoors during the dangerously cold weather. Holloman said they were particularly concerned about the mentally ill or those whose judgment may be impaired through drug use. If necessary, he said, authorities will admit people involuntarily for their safety.
The shelters have hit 80 percent to 85 percent capacity at times, Holloman said. With the holidays occurring in the middle of the cold snap, he said, some people may have extended their family visits.
"The good thing about the holidays is that people are with their family," Holloman said, adding that he was not aware of any weather-related fatalities in the city and "we're hoping we don't experience that." Frostbite, he said, is also a concern, especially for those with medical conditions such as diabetes.
Weather forecasters are predicting the freeze will last several more days with snow, heavy winds, and temperatures that will dip below zero with the windchill. On Monday, it appears there will be some relief with "a little bit of a thaw" that comes with 40 degrees, the warmest since Christmas, said meteorologist Sarah Johnson of the National Weather Service in Mount Holly.
"Friday and Saturday could be the coldest we'll see through this period," Johnson said, with temperatures not climbing past the single digits. "It will be important to wear plenty of warm layers."
Snow is expected Wednesday night into Thursday, with temperatures in the upper 20s to low 30s, and tapering off in the afternoon, Johnson said. While Philadelphia will see one to three inches, the Jersey Shore may get four to six inches, she said. North and west, the snow will drop off to a dusting. Winds, however, are expected to be 35 to 40 mph, which may create visibility problems as the snow falls or is blown from trees.
Pet owners must be diligent, especially with outdoor animals. Very young, very old, and sick animals are more vulnerable and may exhibit signs of distress, such as shivering. Clean drinking water that is not frozen is important, and animals should not drink from outdoor puddles, which may be a mixture of antifreeze or other harmful chemicals.
Jen Leary of the Red Paw Emergency Relief Team based in the Point Breeze section of Philadelphia said that as temperatures dipped last week, the group hit a record, responding to 22 fires that involved 52 pets in need. There was one ferret and the rest were cats and dogs, she said. Some needed emergency shelter, others starter kits as families were relocated. The busy week was not a complete surprise, she said, noting people still have holiday light displays, Christmas trees, and higher heating demands.
"People are doing everything they can to keep warm," Leary said.
In New Jersey, Burlington County spokesman Jason Tosches said a Code Blue emergency has been in place since Dec. 25 and will remain through Wednesday evening, when the county will reassess whether to extend it. He said the county has five shelters, including one for families.Those who use the shelters do so for a variety of reasons, including homeless people who had been living outdoors, or elderly and poor residents who have no heat. The number of people placed in shelters was not available Tuesday, but all of the shelters have reached capacity or had been close to capacity, he said.
"We would never turn anyone away, even if the shelters were at capacity," Tosches said, adding the county uses motels when needed.
Camden County has also opened shelters and warming centers with the severe cold weather.
"In these extreme weather conditions, we need everyone to be sheltered and out of the elements," Freeholder Carmen Rodriguez said in a statement. "If you must leave the house, please dress yourself and your children in warm clothing, hats and gloves. Also, please remember to check on elderly relatives and neighbors, and bring your pets indoors."
In Camden, Yorkship Family School dismissed students early on Tuesday because of heating issues, said Paymon Rouhanifard, superintendent of the Camden School District.
Temperatures at all district schools would be checked late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning to determine if classes needed to be started later, Rouhanifard said.
"Gloucester County maintains 410 miles of roadway and 85 bridges," said Freeholder Heather Simmons, the public works liaison. "In this frigid weather, travelers should make sure they have their vehicles in good condition, including testing their car batteries and making sure that their wipers are in good operating conditions. It's a good idea to keep an emergency roadside kit in your car too, including a blanket and some nonperishable snacks in case they are waiting for roadside assistance."
In Bucks County, outreach workers have buses available to transport those who need rides to any of the county's three shelters, or churches that have opened their doors during the Code Blue emergency, said county spokesman Chris Edwards. There are dozens of homeless in the county, he said. "Those are the people who would be the most in need now."
In Montgomery County, press secretary Kaitlyn Foti said workers for Aging and Adult Services call at-risk seniors during a Code Blue to make sure they have all they need. The list includes those who are low-income or have a history struggling to pay heating bills, and those who live on their own and have medical problems. There are eight shelters in the county, and four Code Blue shelters, Foti said.
In the last few weeks, crews also have been working throughout the region to repair water main breaks, including at least three Tuesday in Northeast Philadelphia, Cherry Hill, and West Conshohocken. Officials suggest that homeowners take precautions to protect their pipes as well, steps that include insulating pipes on outer walls, leaving cabinets open beneath sinks, and leaving water trickling when temperatures dip below freezing for extended hours.