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Flash flood warning in effect for entire Philadelphia area

KYW Radio Philadelphia logo KYW Radio Philadelphia 9/2/2021 Kyw Staff
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See all current watches, warnings and advisories for Pennsylvania | New Jersey watches, warnings and advisories.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The remnants of Tropical Depression Ida moving up the East Coast have brought life-threatening storms to the Philadelphia region. A Flash Flood Warning was issued for the entire Philadelphia area until 2:30 a.m. Thursday.

Possible tornadoes were also spotted Wednesday, causing large levels of damage. One was spotted in Bucks County two in New Jersey, while two were found in New Jersey, one near Burlington and another near Deptford.

Countless scenes of flash flooding in the area led to a Flash Flood Emergency north and west of Philadelphia in Chester and Montgomery Counties.

The entire KYW Newsradio listening area was placed under a tornado watch until 10 p.m. Wednesday. The region had numerous tornado warnings, one issued in Chester County, another for Philadelphia, Delaware and Montgomery counties, and others for Bucks County and parts of South Jersey and the state of Delaware.

And, much of the area was under a flash flood watch through Thursday morning.

There is concern that creeks and streams could flood and poor drainage areas could be overwhelmed. A lot of attention is focused on Lower Bucks County, where the National Weather Service says Neshaminy Creek could reach a record height of nearly 23 feet by Thursday morning, putting it well into major flood territory.

Flooding of that magnitude could deliver more devastation on top of what the Bensalem area saw earlier this summer, when three storms hit in a period of two and a half weeks in July, including a "100-year flood" that overwhelmed a condo complex in Bensalem and neighborhoods in Bristol. A storm with serious wind damage followed. And then, a tornado tore through homes, a car dealership and other businesses.

"Stay safe. Don't go out if the roads are flooded. Don't go out and try to drive in it. That's the worst thing anybody can do,” Bensalem Mayor Joe DiGiralamo said in a video posted on the township’s website. "And if there's an emergency ... call 911. We'll be there."

Preparations for the expected storm include clearing drains ahead of time and keeping emergency crews on standby. County officials are asking that people "drive smart and help make this storm a boring one for them." During the floods in July, they say dozens of people had to be rescued when they were stranded in their homes or cars. It's those life-threatening situations that officials would like to avoid.

State officials are reminding residents that driving around barriers to pass through flood-prone areas carries fines as high as $500, and they will be on the hook to pay for any costs associated with their rescue.

In Montgomery County, the Schuylkill River at Norristown and Perkiomen Creek at Graterford are projected to reach a major flood stage early Thursday morning as well. Residents along those waterways are advised to act now to avoid property damage, injury and death.

With the ground saturated, there are additional concerns that trees could go down and take power lines with them. They urge people to charge their phones ahead of time so they’ll be able to use them in an emergency.

Pennsylvania prepares

State emergency officials say they’re making sure the rest of the state is as prepared as possible. In a preemptive move, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a proclamation of disaster emergency on Tuesday.

"This proclamation will allow for our emergency preparedness teams to provide any support needed throughout the storm and its aftermath," Wolf said.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Randy Padfield said they’ve been watching Ida since before the storm made landfall in Louisiana, and they’ve been prepping for the past few days, including, he said, moving resources from areas of the state that aren’t going to get hit very hard to areas that might.

"All of the actions that we’ve taken so far to date is to really provide assistance to the counties if they need it, and make sure those resources are relatively close, so there’s not a significant delay in getting them any assistance they need," Padfield said.

Padfield said counties generally know what areas are prone to flooding, so counties can prep for those areas. PEMA is there to help if areas that aren’t expecting flooding have issues.

Padfield said people should avoid wading through floodwater, as there could be sewage or other contaminants in it.

“We have in the past have had individuals who wander out to take a look at the force of moving water, and standing on the embankment, and, unfortunately, have been swept away and perished. We want to avoid that at all costs,” he advised.

If you’re stuck in traffic and water starts to rise, Padfield said if the water isn’t moving and you can get out safely, get to high ground. But, he noted, there’s no easy, one-size-fits-all answer, especially if the water is moving. Either way, make sure to call 911 right away.

Meanwhile, Delaware County opened a shelter at the Darby Recreation Center on Ridge Avenue for residents affected by Darby Creek. First responders and emergency operation centers in the county are on standby.

“We see flooding on our older neighborhoods,” said Delaware County Director of Emergency Services Timothy Boyce, “those closest to the rivers along the Darby and Chester Creek, Brandywine, where they’ve experienced flooding before and unfortunately, they can expect it again.

“Tidal flooding backs up the creeks and waterways. It really compounds the problem, so that’s an area of great concern for us.”

Predictions at the Shore

Rain will fall along the Jersey Shore, but not as much as in areas to the north and west. The National Weather Service is calling for an inch or less in Atlantic County, which is still enough to do some damage.

The entire Jersey Shore will be under a gale warning starting at 6 p.m. Wednesday and lasting until noon on Thursday. That means sustained winds of at least 20 mph with gusts of 40 to 54 miles per hour, according to Mark Pino, deputy coordinator of Atlantic County Emergency Management.

See all current watches, warnings and advisories for New Jersey.

The National Weather Service says those strong winds could capsize or damage boats. And, the Shore forecast includes severe storms with possible tornadoes Wednesday afternoon through the evening and into the overnight hours.

Pino says they will be watching all of this very closely: "We’re keeping an eye on the rivers and streams and some of our low-lying areas in the western part of the county."

Officials urge people to be mindful of wind and severe thunderstorms. And with the threat of tornadoes, they say, it is wise to tie down anything that might otherwise blow away.

Gov. Phil Murphy is urging people to stay indoors and off the roads altogether.

“Please just stay in if you can over the next … 12 to 15 hours and let this storm pass,” he said.

The state has been working to clear storm drains and line up tree service vendors to get a jump on any cleanup necessary.  At a briefing in Trenton, State Police Superintendent Pat Callahan reiterated that Ida is going to be dropping water onto already saturated ground, raising the likelihood of flash flooding.

“There is some concern from the National Weather Service about the potential for severe thunderstorms that may spin into tornadoes in the southern part of the state, but the water is probably going to be our greatest concern,” he said.

Authorities are also watching for a rise in the level of the Delaware River, especially north of Lambertville.

Stay with KYW Newsradio for the latest details on the impending severe weather.

KYW Newsradio's Tim Jimenez, Mike Dougherty, Jim Melwert, Mike DeNardo and Justin Udo contributed to this report.

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