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After the storm, roadblocks, detours, darkness

As the sky darkened ominously, Sean McMahon was playing video games on Tuesday afternoon. Then the power flickered, and what followed was a frightening real-life drama.

A mail man crawls under fallen tree to deliver mail on Akron St. in the Frankford section Philadelphia, Pa. on June 24, 2015. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)
A mail man crawls under fallen tree to deliver mail on Akron St. in the Frankford section Philadelphia, Pa. on June 24, 2015. ( ALEJANDRO A. ALVAREZ / Staff Photographer)Read more

As the sky darkened ominously, Sean McMahon was playing video games on Tuesday afternoon. Then the power flickered, and what followed was a frightening real-life drama.

"It became black as night," the 26-year-old said. He looked out the window of his mother's home in Concord Township, Delaware County, and saw the slow collapse of a 150-foot tree onto her detached garage.

On Wednesday afternoon, McMahon and his brother Chris, 35 - along with perhaps hundreds of thousands of others on both sides of the Delaware River - were surveying the damage from the fast-moving but potent cluster of thunderstorms that cut power to about a half-million people, from Chester County through Philadelphia all the way to the Jersey Shore.

Peco advised that it would take until the weekend to restore power to all customers.

Delaware County was particularly hard-hit, with officials declaring a state of emergency after outages - about 78,000 - in all 49 municipalities.

The National Weather Service officially recorded at Philadelphia International Airport a 72 m.p.h. gust, the fourth strongest in the period of record. A gust of 85 m.p.h. was reported in Gloucester County, said Gary Szatkowski, meteorologist in charge of the weather service office in Mount Holly.

Roadblocks, detours, wood-littered roads, and dead traffic signals continued to bedevil motorists during the massive cleanup Wednesday from the worst storm outbreak of the year.

Several main roads, including portions of Route 1 and Route 29, remained closed from downed trees and wires.

"Our concern was, emergency vehicles couldn't go from one end of the county to another," said Delaware County Council Chairman Mario Civera Jr.

The garage belonging to the McMahons' mother in Concord was taken down, its walls flattened and pitched roof awkwardly sitting atop the vintage 1973 and '75 Dodges inside.

"We are just trying to figure out what the next step is," said Chris McMahon. Their insurance company said it would be a week before representatives could come out.

"I guess there is a lot of stuff going on," he said.

Along Hemlock Drive in Concord, trees fell across yards, on top of wires, and in the street.

Power went out almost immediately, neighbors said, as the front whipped through around 6 p.m. "Boom, everything went out," said Kaelum Chandler, 7, who was eating dinner when the storm struck.

On Wednesday, a large tree lay across his family's yard.

"I looked out the window, there was so much noise," said his mother, Stacey, 35. At that point she took her children into the basement for protection.

Philadelphia and areas along the Main Line also felt the storm's fury. By noon Wednesday, 35 streets were still blocked by downed trees or wires in Lower Merion Township, said public information officer Tom Walsh.

"This was similar to one of our big snow or ice storms," Walsh said. "This was pretty bad."

In Chester County, Pennsylvania American Water set up a pair of tankers with potable water to assist residents whose water systems were impacted by the lack of power. In Philadelphia, the city said residents should expect trash and recycling collection delays, and asked them to bundle and tie any tree limbs.

Thousands of Verizon Wireless customers found themselves without service, among them Lawrence Douglas, an electrician from Philadelphia who was working in Washington Township. He tried calling his boss five times Wednesday morning. Nothing went through.

He said he couldn't get into the storage facility he was supposed to check out because only his boss had the key.

And when Douglas ventured down the street to a Dunkin' Donuts for something to eat, he struck more bad luck. The Dunkin' Donuts - as every other restaurant on the block - was closed. No power.

Emergency officials said Verizon's service interruption prevented some customers from calling 911 from their cell phones.

In a statement, the company said it was aware of the problem, which was caused when the storm cut fiber optic equipment used to back up the system. Verizon said service had been restored in Chester and Delaware Counties.

John Opdenaker, 36, was on Long Beach Island vacationing with his fiancee and son when the calls started coming in about fallen trees on his Hemlock Drive property. After a sleepless night worrying about his house, he went home.

"It was a total disaster," he said. Wires were down and trees lay across the street and driveways. Opdenaker, who owns Ridley Excavating, called his crew. They got to work clearing up the damage at homes along the street. By early afternoon the road was passable. The sounds of chainsaws and wood choppers filled the air.

"We have a lot of equipment," he said.

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