WEST GROVE – For the people of West Grove, relief from Wednesday’s ice storm can’t come soon enough. And while the shopping centers and food stores on the outlying townships of Penn, London Grove and New Garden were getting power back – even if only with generators -- and reopening on Thursday, the borough was still an island -- quiet and cold.
Emergency Response Coordinator Chuck Freese said that when the electricity went out on Wednesday morning, the Red Cross set up a warming center at Avon Grove Intermediate School because the usual location, the high school, was lacking power. Then, when the governor declared a state of emergency, the local centers were closed and everyone who was seeking relief had to go to West Chester University, where they were equipped to handle more than 1,000 people.
Two people who were caught up in the pain and inconvenience wrought by the storm but who remained in West Grove on Thursday were borough residents Rachel Coy and Rochelle Brown, who sought relief at the municipal building that houses the library and the police station.
Coy said she came seeking warmth in the library, but when she arrived it was closed. Fortunately for her, Borough Manager Sharon Nesbitt had opened up the adjacent community room, where visitors could sit in the warmth and charge their cell phones.
Coy said she woke up on Wednesday, and the power was already off. As it got colder, she sent her 8-year-old daughter to stay with her great-grandmother in Jennersville, a resident who had one room heated by a kerosene heater but was also without electricity. Many of her neighbors just left to spend some times with relatives elsewhere, and her cats had climbed under piles of blankets seeking warmth.
“I have no power – no way to cook. The first thing this morning (Thursday) when I got up I could see my breath. My cats were so cold they were shaking,” she said. She added that she has no car, and there was no place within walking distance to get food.
The stitches she had in her side from a recent operation were throbbing from the cold, she said, and the outside air seemed warmer that what she was experiencing inside.
As she looked out the window of the municipal building, she pointed to a car that was idling in the parking lot. She said it contained a father, mother and child who did not speak English and could not understand that the community room was open. She said they had been sitting in the car – with the engine running – for the better part of three hours to keep warm.
Brown, who also arrived at the municipal building looking for warmth, said everything in her home is electric, but she does have cold water and the ability to flush toilets.
Like Coy, she said it seemed warmer outside than inside. She said what little food she had was going bad in the refrigerator, even with the irony of freezing temperatures outside. She said she gave some consideration to making a turkey and cheese sandwich, but the turkey already started to smell bad.
She said sleeping was especially hard. “You just get comfortable under all those blankets, then you have to get up and go to the bathroom, and you get cold again,” she said.
Meanwhile, on the outskirts of town, plenty of workers were toiling to fix wires, remove fallen trees and set up generators to get businesses reopened.
On Old Baltimore Pike just west of Guernsey Road, a large tree on the road had traffic detoured onto Paschall Mill Road. A crew from Asplundh, the tree maintenance company, was working to clear it. One worker said that he and the rest of the crew worked 16 hours on Wednesday, were planning to work 16 hours on Thursday, and would continue working 16-hour days until all the fallen trees were cleared.
Most of the workers at that site had come up from North Carolina and were staying at a hotel in Essington, he said.
But the tree clearing crews were not the only ones who had workers from afar.
At the PECO Energy substation in West Grove cars belonging to workers bore license plate from states as far away as Alabama and Oklahoma, as did some of the maintenance trucks.
“They must have started driving up here as soon as they heard the weather forecast,” Police Chief Errol Galloway said.
Also in the substation parking lot was a pile of fresh telephone poles, and alongside them was a truck that appeared to have arrived recently with even more.
All around the borough power repair trucks were driving from one location to another, and it was not unusual to see a group in a lift repairing wires.
Nesbitt said she had received reports that it might be four to six days before power is totally restored, but she hoped it wouldn’t be that long.
Galloway, a veteran at his position, said Wednesday’s storm was unique, although just a few miles south past the Delaware state line, the whole thing came down as rain.
“I’ve seen the power go out with hurricanes and other storms, but I’ve never seen an ice storm as severe as this one,” he said.