Wind, flash floods, pelt East Coast

Same storm system that devastated parts of South slams into Eastern Seaboard

BY JOHN PAPE | BALTIMORE | December 2, 2010

The same storm system that spawned a series of tornadoes across the South on Tuesday hit much of the East Coast Wednesday, knocking out power, snarling traffic and delaying tens of thousands of travelers.

The storms brought high winds, heavy rain and localized flooding to Washington, DC, Baltimore, New Jersey and New York.

Even as a host of faith-based relief organizations were on stand-by to assist with the aftermath of the system as it passed across Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia, they also prepared to provide any recovery help that may be needed on the East Coast.

Organizations such as the American Baptist Churches USA; Catholic Charities, USA; the Southern Baptist Convention; the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints; Lutheran Disaster Response; United Methodist Committee on Relief and Presbyterian Disaster Assistance were all monitoring the storm system and awaiting the call to move relief and recovery teams into storm-impacted areas.

At various times on Wednesday, tornado and severe weather watches were issued for parts of Virginia, the District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey and the greater New York area. Wind gusts of up to 60 mph accompanied heavy rains across much of the region, downing trees, knocking out power and bringing much of the mass transit grid to a virtual standstill.

Wind gusts up to hurricane strength were reported in New Jersey and New York, causing some isolated structural damage.

New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports reported delays of up to six hours at the height of the storm, as well as the cancellation of more than 200 flights. Newark International Airport saw delays of up to five hours.

As a precaution, Amtrak halted service in the heavily-traveled Washington-New York-Boston corridor for several hours, adding to the transportation woes.

Jersey City emergency services responded to more than 200 weather-related calls as heavy rain and winds as high as 48 mph moved through the city around midday.

Greg Kierce, Jersey City Emergency Management Director, said firefighters handled 110 calls, including fallen tress, downed electrical wires and high water rescues. Police officers received more than 100 calls because of the storm system, including traffic accidents, street closures and motorists stranded in floodwaters.

“At this point, we do not have any reports of deaths or serious injuries and we feel we were fortunate in that respect,” Kierce said. “Still, the potential for more bad weather exists until the storm system completely clears out of the area.”

New Jersey Transit train service between New York and Newark one of the nation’s busiest rail corridors was suspended after electrical lines were blown down across the tracks. Wires that power the system’s Northeast Corridor Line disconnected from the overhead catenary system and fell on both tracks, effectively shutting down rail service across much of the system.

Transit system spokesman Dan Stessel said a train carrying 570 people was brought to a halt on the tracks when power was lost around 11:30 a.m.

“Just like a power line coming down in the neighborhood, you lose power," Stessel said.

The stranded passengers were rescued when a diesel-powered engine towed the electric train to a nearby station.

Power was restored to one of the two tracks around 2:30 p.m., and the second came on line around 4:30 p.m. Still, lines of commuters were backed up in train stations and Stessel said it would take hours to work out the delays and restore service to its regular schedule.

In the nation’s capital, the storms hit during morning rush hour, complicating the commute with heavy rain, strong winds and street flooding. While the heaviest rains had already moved out of the area by noon, isolated storms and flooding remained a problem for several hours afterward.

Public works personnel provided up to four sandbags per household for DC residents wanting to protect homes against floodwaters.

No major damage was reported in the DC area, but the storm brought some flooded intersections, power outages and signs and tree limbs blown down throughout the area.

As with most areas in the Northeast, the most serious storm casualty in New York was the transportation grid. Additionally, some trees and electrical lines were blown down, leaving major parts of the Tri-State area without power A number of homes were damaged by strong winds or from trees and large limbs brought down by the 60-plus mph winds.

The United States Park Service closed the Statue of Liberty for several hours due to the high winds.

Transportation authorities implemented travel restrictions on the Verrazano, RFK, Throgs Neck and Whitestone bridges during periods of high winds and heavy rain.

The New York City Department of Buildings issued a wind advisory, urging builders, contractors and property owners to secure loose items at construction sites and buildings. Inspectors performed random spot checks throughout the city to make certain potential hazards had been secured.

Property owners were also encouraged to secure loose objects like patio furniture, potted plants, garbage cans and garden tools, as well as grills and patio umbrellas and satellite dishes.

Before pushing across the Northeast, the storm system triggered spring-like storms across much of the South, taking two lives.

In suburban Atlanta, 54-year-old Matthew Mitchell died after a tree fell on the car he was driving. Police believe strong wind gusts blew the tree down.

In Greenville County, S.C., 50-year-old Rita Hunter was killed in a storm-related traffic accident. Hunter was killed when she lost control of her car on a wet roadway, struck and tree and overturned.

The storm system also injured 17 people in Mississippi, spawning tornadoes across the central part of the state.

According to the Mississippi Emergency Management Agency, a total of seven counties reported significant damage as a result of the severe weather. Initial reports said the cities of Starkville and Yazoo City were hardest hit by the storms.

State emergency management officials also said six people were injured in Attala County and several mobile homes were seriously damaged by storm winds. The injured were all taken to a hospital in Kosciusko with what were described as non-life-threatening injuries.

In Leake County, three structures were reported damaged by winds and power was knocked out in the Thomastown area.

Several homes were damaged and eleven people injured in Monroe County. Additionally, a radio tower was damaged by winds and the state had sent a mobile communications unit to the area to restore emergency communication capabilities.

There were also reports of homes damaged in Starkville, including extensive damage in The Pines mobile home park near Starkville High School.

Starkville Police Chief David Lindley said seven mobile homes appeared to have been completely destroyed, including one that was turned on its side. Others suffered what the chief called “moderate to major” damage. Lindley said search teams had combed the area for victims but found no casualties.

Across the state in Warren County, sporadic power outages and trees down were reported and Fisher Ferry Road was closed due to flooding.

Before hitting Mississippi, the storm system destroyed one home and damaged three others in the tiny Louisiana hamlet of Atlanta. No injuries were reported, but the Winn County Sheriff’s Office said the damage was “more than likely” caused by a tornado.

The 24-mile Lake Pontchartrain Causeway, which connects New Orleans with the north shore of the massive lake, was closed for a time because of high winds associated with the storm.

By early evening Wednesday, the system had moved out of the New York area and was pushed into New England. By that time, the wind gusts had calmed and storms were bringing only a wintry mix of snow and rain.

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