21 Aug 2014
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Bethlehem Begins Recovery from Superstorm Sandy

Street crews remove trees that blocked 100 streets across the city, but 25,000 homes, half the city's traffic lights and 16 public schools still had no electricity in wake of Sandy.

Bethlehem Begins Recovery from Superstorm Sandy


Cleanup and recovery from Superstorm Sandy will continue across Bethlehem today as 25,000 homes, half the city’s traffic signals and even Bethlehem City Hall remained without electricity as the sun set on Tuesday.

While Bethlehem was fortunate that anticipated creek flooding from the pre-Halloween monster storm never came to pass, hurricane force winds did topple dozens of trees across the city, leaving a trail of trunks, limbs, branches and vegetative debris everywhere you looked.

And with that came downed power lines that left wide swaths of the city without electricity.

Sixteen of 22 buildings in the Bethlehem Area School District had no power and so the district had little choice but to keep schools closed for a third consecutive day today.

Power outages also struck the city’s water and waste water treatment plants, though city officials said there was no disruption of service.

The city counted some 150 downed trees that blocked street traffic. By sundown, five streets crews that began their day at 4 a.m. had removed 100 of them. The hope was that at least half of the remainder would be removed today.

However, there are 25 traffic-blocking trees that cannot be moved without PPL assistance, city officials said.

Most likely, one of them lies across First Avenue, just off of W. Broad Street. The destructive scene there includes a felled tree resting against a house, a demolished streetlight and a tangled web of tree limbs, wires and parked cars.

“You see this stuff on TV,” remarked one First Avenue resident looking over the scene. “You never think it will come to you.”

The completion of PPL’s work seems to be the greatest variable in recovery. As of Tuesday night, the power company was offering no timetable for full restoration.

Power outages were scattered.

At the Westgate Mall, for example, there was electricity at the Weis and all the stores south of it. But north of the supermarket, there was no power.

Most of Main Street in the historic downtown – including the Historic Hotel Bethlehem and the Shoppes at Main Street Commons – were dark as the sun set. But Restaurant Row on Broad Street was lit and ready for business.

As of Tuesday night, 60 of the city’s 122 traffic signals did not have electricity. Backup generators were installed at five key intersections – all in South Bethlehem – to keep traffic flowing along Third Street, Route 378 and the Five Points.

Bethlehem police cautioned motorists that intersections with non-functioning traffic signals are to be treated as if they have four-way stop signs.

Bethlehem is also operating its 911 emergency call center, water treatment plant and waste water treatment plant on backup power, officials said.

The waste water facility is one of “52 critical high priority facilities needing power,” according to a city news release. A “significant transmission failure” is to blame, but there was no timetable for restoration as of Tuesday evening, city officials said.

Mayor John Callahan praised city employees and the hard work they put in during the storm and in its immediate aftermath.

“Our first responders worked tirelessly through remarkably difficult conditions last night and early this morning and the rest of the City Water, Public Works and Parks crews went right to work early this morning to clean up the destruction left behind by Sandy,” Callahan said. “I really commend their efforts.”

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