The National Weather Service said record flooding of rivers and creeks in eastern Pennsylvania was possible this weekend, with Irene dumping as much as 10 inches of rain on ground already saturated from an unusually wet August. SEPTA, the mass transit agency that serves Philadelphia and its suburbs, planned to shut down for the first time in its history. Municipal workers cleared storm drains and police closed flood-prone streets. In suburban Philadelphia, evacuations were being ordered in low-lying areas of Chester and Darby.
Along Bushkill Creek outside Easton, Bill Mutschler felt powerless to stop the floodwaters he expects to inundate his home and custom picture-framing business.
Mutschler, 74, had tens of thousands of dollars worth of antiques, framing materials and prints on the ground floor of his 200-year-old former grist mill - and not enough manpower to help him move it.
"What can I do?" he despaired. "All I've got at stake is my livelihood, that's all."
In Harrisburg, Gov. Tom Corbett implored residents to get ready for a major storm that could bring winds of 60 mph or more and cause widespread power outages and flash flooding in much of the eastern half of the state.
"We are urging all Pennsylvanians to take action now to be prepared," he said.
Among the fast-moving developments Friday:
- Corbett issued a disaster proclamation after meeting with the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and other emergency officials. The move frees up state agencies to use all available resources and personnel.
- The Pennsylvania National Guard called out 1,500 Army and Air Force guard members and made them available for rescue missions, sandbagging and other tasks. Another 250 guard members will be on standby in flood-prone areas, along with eight helicopters, Guard spokesman Major Ed Shank said.
"Whatever we need to do, we'll be there," he said.
- The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority announced it will suspend all bus, trolley and train service at 12:30 a.m. Sunday, an unprecedented shutdown that officials concluded was necessary after taking a look at a dire forecast of sustained high winds and heavy rains.
"It would be absolutely unprofessional for us to try and provide the service and endanger our employees or, particularly, the public," SEPTA spokesman Richard Maloney said Friday. "We do not want people stranded."
He said SEPTA officials will conduct damage assessments as the weather clears Sunday to figure out when the system might reopen.
With Irene still churning hundreds of miles away in the Atlantic Ocean, workers at the Manayunk Brewery in Philadelphia gathered sand bags to prepare for flooding that appears inevitable on the banks of the Schuylkill River. The municipal marina in Ridley, Delaware County, meanwhile, began notifying boat owners they need to get their crafts off Darby Creek.
In the Easton area, residents kept a wary eye on the Delaware River and its tributaries, where three major floods in 2004, 2005 and 2006 caused several deaths and tens of millions of dollars in property damage along riverfront communities in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
Mutschler, who endured major flooding from Hurricane Ivan in 2004, looked helplessly Friday at thousands of pounds of stuff arrayed on the grist mill's ground floor: Ancient wooden display cases, an antique wicker baby carriage, an old German school desk, a fanning mill used to separate wheat from chaff.
In a few days, he expects all of it to be water-logged and coated in mud.
"It's looking so nice right now. But after the flood ... " said Mutschler, trailing off, his hand on his ponytailed head.
Across the street, Shirl Anthony carted a wheelbarrow of plastic crates to her house. She'll put her furniture on them if it appears her first floor will be flooded. Anthony also cleared space on the second floor for her valuables, and plans to ride out the storm there.
Like Mutschler, Anthony's first experience with severe flooding came in 2004, when the creek inundated her house with four feet of water and Mutschler's hypothermic granddaughter had to be rescued by boat from the second floor of the grist mill.
"We were clueless then," said Anthony, who's in her 60s. "It was a major learning experience for us."
Several miles away, customers at a Home Depot stocked up on batteries, flashlights, pumps, downspouts, plastic gas cans, and window-well coverings. Anybody looking for a generator was out of luck: They were sold out.
Bill and Peggy Shafer picked up a utility pump to supplement their basement sump and a second small pump. They worried about wind more than water, knowing their pumps will be useless if the power goes out.
"We don't want to lose our furnace," said Peggy Shafer, 57.
The National Weather Service issued a hurricane warning for Philadelphia and for neighboring Delaware County. While the city did not order an evacuation, it planned to open three shelters, and Mayor Michael Nutter urged residents of flood-prone areas to stay with friends or relatives on higher ground.
"Take this very seriously," he said.
August is already the wettest month on record in Philadelphia, with more than 13½ inches of precipitation. The previous record was set in September 1999, largely thanks to Hurricane Floyd.
Associated Press writers Peter Jackson in Harrisburg and Kathy Matheson in Philadelphia contributed to this story.
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