Five confirmed tornadoes and 600,000 power outages later, the mess that Isaias made throughout the region was evident on a splendidly tranquil Wednesday from the Jersey Shore to Quakertown.
Tens of thousands of utility customers remained without lights, and might have to live without them for days; Isaias evidently outdid Hurricane Sandy for plunging Long Beach Island into darkness.
The Vine Street Expressway, one of the region’s most important highway links, remained closed. And countless residents of low-lying properties were left to bail out water and discard water-ruined possessions.
In Delaware County, entire neighborhoods in Darby Borough and Colwyn were devastated, said Timothy Boyce, director of the county’s emergency services department. Those lower-income areas already have been hit hard by unemployment during the coronavirus pandemic.
“Just seeing people who have very few things throwing them on the sidewalk, in the trash, was terrible,” Boyce said.
A few miles away, in the Eastwick section of Southwest Philadelphia, piles of damp carpet, clothing, sofa cushions, and other housewares were being stacked in front of homes.
Residents in the 8100 block of Lindbergh Boulevard said it was the worst flooding since Hurricane Floyd in 1999. “My basement is, like, kaput,” said Anne Marie Snock, 72, who has lived on the block for 45 years.
The Vine Street Expressway from Broad Street to the Schuylkill Expressway was to remain closed until at least Thursday afternoon, after torrents of water from Isaias tore loose a river barge that rammed into a bridge. Schuylkill water also inundated Boathouse Row structures.
The storm was blamed for at least one death locally, a 5-year-old Montgomery County girl who had gone missing at the height of the storm.
No deaths were reported in New Jersey, but close to a million customers lost power statewide, said Gov. Phil Murphy, who said the storm tore through the Garden State “like a knife through butter.”
Pennsylvania’s rain totals were more impressive — close to nine inches in Wynnewood. But in terms of wind, Jersey did see the worst side of Isaias.
Based on the National Hurricane Center track, the center of Isaias passed near Philadelphia and just to the west of the Delaware River. Areas to the east of a storm center get winds from the south, and they got an extra kick in New Jersey because Isaias was speeding northward at 40 mph, said Dave Dombek, a meteorologist with AccuWeather Inc.
Although one gust of 65 mph was reported in Chester County, peak winds east of the river generally were more impressive, with some hurricane-force 75 mph gusts at the Shore, and a 109 mph gust on Long Beach Island.
That was associated with one of the five tornadoes in the greater region confirmed by the National Weather Service through radar and damage patterns visible on available images, said Joe Miketta, the warning coordinator meteorologist at the Mount Holly office.
In the summer of the coronavirus, the agency is reluctant to send investigators to scenes, but it will be making more thorough assessments in the coming days, Miketta said.
The LBI twister left the entire island without power for more than a day, plunging it into a no-traffic-light slumber that felt more like the offseason.
“It is historic that the whole island is down,” said KayCee Byrd, owner of the Cheese Shoppe in Surf City, who had a generator brought to her by a friend from Villanova. She was selling pizza dough for people to cook on their grills. “Everybody’s been scrambling.”
Francis Tedesco of Atlantic City Electric said he believed this was the first time all the power was out across Long Beach Island, which has 19,800 customers.
Twisters also were confirmed in Strathmere, and in Montgomery and Bucks Counties and the state of Delaware.
As was the case with the other collar counties, Bucks had to contend with cosmic rainfall.
“It was almost in Bucks County like we had two different storms,” emergency services director Scott Forster said. “We had a significant wind event in the southern half of the county and a flash flood in [the] upper half.”
About 150 people had to be rescued from their homes, Forster said, most of them in upper Bucks, including Quakertown and Sellersville.
In Delaware County, rescues were happening so quickly that some departments didn’t have time to enter them in the emergency system, according to Boyce. Responders just pulled people to safety on their way to or from other calls for help.
One of those rescues came at Samantha McGovern’s basement-level apartment in Morton. McGovern, 34, moved into the unit about a month ago with her two daughters. On Tuesday night, water began rising in her apartment, reaching her knees in 10 minutes.
When she tried to leave, her door wouldn’t open. It was jammed into its frame by the pressure from the water.
For her children’s sake, she said, she kept her cool.
“They were on the sofa, and I told them, ‘Just stay here, it’s just water, you guys are good,’” she said. “But inside, I felt like I was losing it.”
John Bansall, assistant chief of the Morton-Rutledge Fire Company, said water from a creek behind McGovern’s apartment complex caused the bulk of the flooding. McGovern and her daughters were among about 30 people evacuated safely from the complex.
In Eastwick, Sal Galati said his home took on about 18 inches of water in the basement and garage, and it could have been worse. His wife, Jane, and other residents of the street said they weren’t pleased with Philadelphia officials, who they said didn’t even bother to come to assess the damage or check if they were OK, unlike the response after Floyd.
“The last time, in 1999, there were so many city trucks up here helping. Not one person came here today,” she said.
Thursday and Friday aren’t looking as cleanup-friendly, with showers and thunderstorms possible.
No more tropical systems are expected to pester the region in the near future, but the climatological peak of the season is still weeks away.