In the Pennsylvania suburbs, three days of brutal heat and one night of crashing thunderstorms felt like one thing to Rob Coutts:
A quick, scary trip to Oz and back.
"Now I know what Dorothy went through," Coutts said yesterday, staring at two huge tree limbs that lay on the front lawn of his Abington home.
On Tuesday night, he was watching the Phillies when he heard what sounded like a tornado. He's still not sure what blasted through the neighborhood, but it left the block between Rockwell and Keith Roads looking as if it had been blown to Kansas: trees uprooted and tossed over fences, power lines zigzagged like Crazy String across lawns and houses, and a huge oak atop a car.
The storm that tore through the Philadelphia area carried drenching rains and gusts of up to 60 miles per hour. In Abington yesterday, neighbors described a frightening scene of dark skies, pounding hail and mighty wind.
The heat and resulting storms were blamed for 10 deaths in the region.
At the peak of the storm, about 152,000 customers across the region lost electricity, though that had been pared to about 16,000 last night, according to Peco Energy Co.
Chester County had the highest number of customers still in the dark at 8,431, followed by Montgomery County at 5,167. Cameron Kline, a Peco spokesman, said a few of the most difficult jobs would not be completed until tomorrow. Crews were working around the clock, he said.
"The damage is very extensive in some spots, and it's just going to take time," Kline said.
The storm skirted South Jersey and largely spared Philadelphia - but exacted a deadly cost from one Montgomery County family.
Yesterday morning, an Upper Merion man was found dead, and his wife was hospitalized, after they were exposed to carbon monoxide from a gas-powered generator. They had used the machine to keep their refrigerator running during the outage. But seepage of the odorless, colorless gas poisoned Peter Maneos, 61, and his wife, Maria Maneos, 59, a teacher, at their Saratoga Road home, officials said.
Maria Maneos was airlifted to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Her condition was not immediately available.
The Philadelphia Medical Examiner's Office said yesterday that six more people, three men and three women ages 65 to 94, had died in their homes of heat-related causes. Some did not have air conditioners or fans, and in one home the air conditioner had malfunctioned and was spewing hot air, a spokesman said. The deaths raised the city's death total from the heat wave to eight.
The Montgomery County coroner reported that a 65-year-old man died of sunstroke Tuesday in Pottstown.
After Tuesday night's winds, yesterday morning broke clear and beautiful, the sun strong, the sky blue, the breeze pleasant. People emerged to inspect their property and trade stories.
In pastoral Schuylkill Township, the storm had snapped trees as it whipped across the wooded banks of Pickering Creek. Route 29 had to be barricaded from Creek to Pothouse Roads because about 300 feet of power line lay in the street.
Ivan Stiles, 63, who lives along Route 29 with his wife and son, said the family hurried into the oldest portion of their 1814 home as the winds swirled furiously. He heard several loud cracks, followed by the sound of trees hitting the house. The trees crushed patio furniture and wrecked gutters while hiding other potential damage beneath.
Several doors away, Jean Halladay, 65, told how she looked outside during the storm to see trees bending in all directions. She grabbed her dalmatian, Winston, and retreated to the boiler room. The noise of falling debris lasted half an hour.
"Luckily, nothing hit the house," she said yesterday, surveying dozens of downed limbs.
Some of the worst of the damage occurred in eastern Montgomery County, where the storm taxed a system burdened by three days of miserable heat and sent Peco crews into what spokesman Kline called "cut-and-run mode."
"They arrive at the scene, clear the area, restore power, and head to the next one," he said.
In West Norriton Township, Ashley Huganir had returned from kayaking on the Schuylkill about 8 p.m. when she heard a loud crash: Lightning had struck a tree on her West Indian Lane property.
"I thought a tree had come down onto the house," Huganir said. "That's how loud it was."
In Abington, Philip Jones was on the phone as the wind raged. He at first ignored his wife's call to come see what had happened to their Subaru Outback. When he saw the scene in their driveway, "I said, 'Thank goodness for insurance, and thank goodness nobody was hurt.' "
A tree had brought down electric wires and a power pole before crashing onto the car. Jones said he never heard the blow.
One of the few properties to escape harm in the neighborhood belonged to Will and Melanie Straface.
"Thank God," a relieved Will Straface said yesterday. "I was watching the trees blowing. It was like they were fighting at the top."
For a video report on people in our region trying
to keep cool during the recent heat wave, visit http://go.philly.