In rapid response to surging calls for assistance of Superstorm Sandy evacuees, Gov. Tom Corbett has activated a state emergency plan.
“That plan is to assist evacuees that need temporary shelter,” said Spokesperson for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare Carey Miller.
Miller said the shelters, officially referred to as mega centers, will be at West Chester University and East Stroudsburg University, the two confirmed locations under the responsibility of the department.
Cots, personal hygiene products, blankets, food and other supplies will be provided to the evacuees, Miller said.
Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Press Secretary Cory Angell wrote in an email that there is no anticipated number of evacuees for the two locations at the time. The capacity for the West Chester University location is 1,275, while the capacity of East Stroudsburg University is 416.
Though there is not a designated time frame for operations, the centers are set to be staffed for 72 hours, she said.
“We had a lot of notice that the storm was coming, so we had a lot of time to get ready,” Corbett said in a press conference Tuesday.
While the shelters were made available to evacuees from New York and New Jersey, state officials from these areas are trying to cater to their own residents, Corbett said.
Therefore, Pennsylvania is not expecting any out-of-state evacuees as of press time Tuesday, Corbett said. He added that, after 24 hours, the operation of the mega centers will be re-evaluated.
Corbett continued that there are 45 shelters in Pennsylvania, 33 of which have been instituted by the Red Cross.
Further emergency relief efforts include 2,100 National Guard Troops deployed on 36 missions. Fourteen of those have been completed, while 11 have been canceled, Corbett confirmed.
Corbett said that the death toll has since increased to five in Pennsylvania, involving two unconfirmed deaths. The casualties include a 17-year boy that is believed to have been driving an ATV in Northampton County and another individual from Lancaster County that is suspected to have fallen off a ladder.
Corbett said 400 secondary roads and bridges have closed, while Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and AMTRAK are set to restart routes in their service areas.
While Superstorm Sandy did not cause any major flooding in Pennsylvania and the amount of water involved was less than expected, wind damage was higher than expected, Corbett said.
He said that the state is in the process of finding out what courthouses will be closed for absentee voter purposes. No major river flooding is expected, he said.
Corbett continued that the extent and scope of the damage has yet to be determined
and homeowners that have sustained property damage should contact their insurance companies.
Corbett said they will be able “to breathe a sigh of relief” when power has been restored, adding that people without electricity has declined from 2.5 million to 1.1 million, as of press time Tuesday.
On the national stage front, officials are also leading extensive efforts to bring the situation to a more manageable state.
In a conference call from Washington, Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Craig Fugate spoke to how the nation is proceeding with emergency relief. Fugate said the number of FEMA employees is marked by a rapid increase.
“The amount of damages were such that there was not a question it would exceed the normal threshold for disaster,” Fugate said.
Fugate noted that the nation is carrying a $17 billion debt due to disasters. With $3.6 million on hand combined with whatever funds have been allocated for the year, he said that budgeted funding should cover recovery.
Fugate further underlined the priority of achieving power restoration and said they are working with state officials for this. Governors are currently working to generate numbers for homelessness and death tolls, he added.
“We are doing what we are designed to do, we have been doing our jobs, supporting the states,” he said.
Lindsay Finan and Vincent Corso contributed to this report.