Pennsylvania braces for heavy rains from Irene

PHILADELPHIA - August 25, 2011

RELATED: Get the latest track of Irene with the 6abc.com Hurricane Tracker.

Governments, airports, utilities and rescue groups were putting extra workers on duty with the state forecast to get heavy rain and sustained winds of up to 50 mph. Seven inches could fall in Philadelphia if current projections hold, said Mayor Michael Nutter, calling it potentially the worst hurricane to hit the city in at least 50 years.

"This storm is coming, the question is severity," Nutter said, noting that August has been one of the wettest months in city history and the water has nowhere else to go. "If an evacuation order is given, please adhere to it."

The Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency was communicating with counties and state agencies to make sure resources such as pumps, trucks and boats are available in areas that may need them. It was also urging residents to prepare.

"The approaching hurricane means all residents should be sure emergency supplies are ready in our homes, and to secure outdoor items so they don't cause more damage when the winds come," PEMA Director Glenn Cannon said. "As this week's historic East Coast earthquake reminded everyone, being prepared at all times is critical."

Philadelphia International Airport planned to beef up staffing Saturday and travelers were being urged to check with airlines in the event of weather-related delays and cancellations, airport spokeswoman Victoria Lupica said. Airport officials also are making sure they have enough food, water, blankets and other supplies on hand in case travelers get stranded.

Pennsylvania State Police troopers are being advised to monitor low-lying areas and to be prepared to close roads that are flooded, said Sgt. Anthony Manetta, a department spokesman.

In northeastern Pennsylvania, Brian Wrightson, the emergency services director for 10 American Red Cross chapters, put out a call for volunteers Thursday and said mobile trailers and cots could be put in likely flood areas as early as Friday night, depending on the storm track.

"This one has the potential to wallop us pretty good," Wrightson said, adding that he's particularly concerned about Delaware River communities in the Poconos.

The Red Cross drilled for a nearly identical scenario in early June: A hurricane dubbed "Earl the Second" that moved up the East Coast. In northeastern Pennsylvania, some 120 volunteers opened shelters, served food, and dispatched disaster assessment teams. A mock fire was even thrown into the mix.

So Wrightson said his people will be ready, should the worst happen.

At PECO, an electric utility serving 1.6 million customers in the Philadelphia region, up to 200 crews will be on call to work throughout the weekend, spokeswoman Cathy Engel Menendez said.

Electrical utilities along the eastern seaboard are talking with one another as part of a mutual assistance agreement, and are already seeking help in anticipation of storm damage and outages, PPL Corp. spokesman Michael Wood said.

Allentown-based PPL, which delivers electricity to more than 1.4 million customers in Pennsylvania, is putting workers on call and making sure it has enough equipment and materials to respond to the storm. About 75 workers from LG&E, a PPL subsidiary in Kentucky, were headed to Pennsylvania to help out.

"We are really planning in the face of uncertainty and changing weather dynamics, so we are tracking the weather like everyone and looking to be prepared as best possible for the different scenarios that could occur," Wood said in an email.

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