Hurricane Sandy, which brought rain and mild winds to Blair County on Monday, was expected to bring in strong winds overnight and more rain today before moving north, weather forecasters said.
Counties in central Pennsylvania, including Blair, Bedford, Cambria, Clearfield and Huntingdon, were to remain under a flood warning today because of the widespread storm that forced dozens of eastern and southern Pennsylvania residents to leave their homes Monday for evacuation centers.
Warnings were issued Monday for the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River at Williamsburg which was predicted, by this morning, to reach a flood stage of 12 feet, according to National Weather Service in State College. The river was expected to crest at 14.5 feet by late Wednesday morning.
A similar flood warning was issued Monday for the Little Juniata River at Spruce Creek, where the river was expected to continue rising to 9.5 feet by tonight, endangering houses along the river and covering nearby roads, including Route 45. Forecasters said the river will have receded by Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service also issued flood warnings for the Juniata River in Huntingdon, the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River in Saxton and the Aughwick Creek at Shirleysburg.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was monitoring water levels Monday at their 14 dams, including the one at Raystown Lake.
The following school districts and schools are closed today:
Altoona Central Catholic
Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic
Great Commission School
Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center
Clearfield County Career and Technology Center
"Based on recent inspections of our district's levees and dams, we are confident the projects will perform as designed," Col. J. Richard Jordan, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District, said in a news release. "All district reservoirs are at normal pool levels and available to handle the predicted amount of rainfall.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers began construction on the dam in 1962 and finished in 1988 at a cost of $77 million. The project, which has prevented $269.6 billion of flood damages through fiscal year 2011, provides protection for all areas along the Juniata River downstream of Huntingdon.
By mid-Monday afternoon, an estimated 30,000 Pennsylvania residents were without electricity. As many as 325 Penelec customers in the Tyrone area of northern Blair County were without power at 3 p.m. but the number fell to less than five customers still without service at 4:05 p.m., according to the Penelec website.
Altoona Fire Department Chief and Emergency Management Coordinator Tim Hileman said generators are ready to go should the city lose power, and responders and emergency management agencies throughout Blair County were awaiting what the storm would bring.
"We have everything we need to keep the city up and running," Hileman said, noting city departments met throughout the day to plan for the storm with some staff going home early so they could be available through the night if needed.
An earlier announcement by the Red Cross that the Altoona Area Junior High School would serve as an emergency shelter was premature, but said that the school will be one possibility should the decision to open shelters be made. Hileman said agreements are in place to give emergency responders access to locations for shelters and those would be announced when the time came.
Kathy Smyser, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross, said volunteers and supplies are ready to go and said the relief organization is working closely with Blair County emergency management agencies to open shelters where and when they are needed.
"If the need is there, we'll find a way to open a shelter," Smyser said, adding the Blair County Chapter will continue to respond to individual needs, such as people flooded from their homes or affected by fire, throughout the storm.
In Tyrone, Emergency Management Coordinator Jay Young said preparations were being made to open an emergency shelter at the Tyrone Area High School should conditions call for it and that borough workers and emergency responders have been briefed and were ready to go to.
As for the Bald Eagle Creek and the Little Juniata River, Young said both were still handling the rain as of 4 p.m.
"They're looking pretty good because of the recent dry spell," Young said.
Blazing Arrow Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company Chief Jeffrey Watson said Tyrone's fire stations were keeping standby crews at the stations and for now, responders were waiting to see what Sandy will bring.
"We have our equipment ready to deal with downed trees, flooding and whatever else we made need to respond to," Watson said.
In preparation for the storm, state Agriculture Secretary George Grieg offered advice on food safety.
"During and after a power outage or flood, simple steps like monitoring the temperature and condition of food can make the difference between safe food and dangerous food," Grieg said.
If power is out, he advises keeping the refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible to maintain lower temperatures.
Refrigerators will keep food safely cold for about four hours if unopened. A full freezer will hold the temperature for approximately 48 hours, 24 hours if it is half full and the door remains closed.
After four hours without power, Grieg recommends discarding perishable food such as meat, poultry, fish, soft cheese, milk, eggs, leftovers and deli items.
For residents who experience flooding, he advises discarding most items that become submerged in floodwater, including home-canned foods, food in cardboard boxes, meat, eggs, spices and other staples. Commercially canned foods that came in contact with floodwater are salvageable by soaking the can for one minute in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water, then rinsing in cool water and drying.
Any dishware or glassware that becomes submerged in flood water can be sanitized by boiling water or by immersing the items for 15 minutes in a solution of one teaspoon of chlorine bleach per quart of water.
Emergency management officials also advised local residents Monday to avoid traveling during the storm. If that's not possible, then call 511 or visit www.511PA.com to check for traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speeds on interstates and traffic cameras.