As Hurricane Sandy lurked in the Caribbean Sea on Friday, Bethlehem city employees were beginning to brace for what is already being dubbed "Frankenstorm."
Streets employees were out clearing gutters and drainage sewers of fallen leaves – a pre-emptive strike against flooding from anticipated heavy rain.
In the Electrical Bureau, staff was testing the city’s supply of portable generators to ensure that they will be ready to power traffic lights at some of the city’s busiest intersections should large sections of the city lose power -- as they did during last year’s surprise Halloween snow storm.
More than anything else, however, city, county and emergency officials were doing everything they could to urge citizen preparedness. Bethlehem posted a link to a Red Cross Hurricane Safety Checklist on its Web page. The Bethlehem Police Department did the same on its blog. (A PDF of that checklist is attached to this story.)
In interviews and prepared statements, officials in Northampton and Lehigh counties also urged personal preparedness.
According to a release issued by the American Red Cross Northeast Pennsylvania Region:
“Preparation is the best protection against the dangers of a storm. The Red Cross recommends these quick steps to take now to be prepared for emergencies like severe storms – build a kit, make a plan and be informed.
"Emergency kits should contain a three-day supply of water for each person in the household, along with food that doesn’t require refrigeration, flashlights, a battery-operated radio and a first-aid kit.”
Joe Kelly, Bethlehem’s director of community and economic development, said city officials will be monitoring the forecast closely and are prepared to call in employees for extra duty if the storm begins to create havoc on Sunday night.
As of Friday, however, it appeared that the brunt of the storm would not arrive until Monday or Tuesday, but the uncertainty that still surrounds this storm was one of the challenges being faced by city and emergency officials.
"We could be looking at flash-flooding. We could be looking at small stream flooding. We could be looking at river flooding," said Bob Mateff, director of Northampton County Emergency Services.
Last year, Mateff had to contend with a hurricane, a blizzard and a flood. "This one appears to be all three rolled into one," he said,
His staff is working with utilities PPL and First Energy, as well as LANTA, to make preparations. The county will increase its staff at the 911 center during the storm and set up an emergency operations center on Monday.
Bethlehem officials will be closely watching the levels of both the Saucon and Monocacy creeks, which have the potential to force some home evacuations, Kelly said.
Fireside Lane, which runs along the west side of Saucon Creek, is of particular concern because there is only one way in and one way out, Kelly said. Flooding during Hurricane Irene in August 2011 made boat rescues necessary.
Ravena Street, which also sits along Saucon Creek in South Bethlehem, and Conestoga Road, which runs alongside the Monocacy Creek near the Central Historic District, are also flood prone.