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In Sandy's cross-hairs, Philadelphia braces for flooding and fury

October 29, 2012|By David Zucchino

PHILADELPHIA – For a man who lives on a pier that juts into the rapidly rising Delaware River, Cain Carducci was remarkably calm Monday afternoon.

Carducci, 23, planned to spend the night inside his condominium on Pier 3, a former municipal produce pier on the Delaware. He was not overly worried that Hurricane Sandy, forecast as possibly the most destructive and treacherous storm in modern Philadelphia history, would propel the river’s roiling gray waters into his living room.

"This building is all steel and concrete," Carducci, a respiratory therapist, said as the river pitched and roared below his second-floor condo.

PHOTOS: Hurricane Sandy approaches

He did concede that he’s been watching the river, and that it had moved  within 5 or 6 feet of the base of the pier’s ground-floor garage. And he couldn’t help but notice that a marshy area below one window that normally holds little standing water was inundated, the swirling waters rising fast.

"OK, I am getting a little concerned now," Carducci said. He added: "But I’m staying. This has to be one of the safest places in the city right now." 

Forecasters say Philadelphia is in the bull’s eye of the storm. After Sandy makes landfall  on the New Jersey coast, the center of the storm is expected to hammer the city and surrounding suburbs Tuesday morning.

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Widespread power outages are predicted, along with severe flooding in so-called "low-lying areas." That would describe Pier 3, which is squeezed between the river and Delaware Avenue, a low-slung thoroughfare that floods even in ordinary rainstorms.

"Oh, it’ll flood tonight -- that road will be a river," said a local man who was hauling a dingy across the sidewalk outside Pier 3. The man, who declined to give his name, said he would rely on the tiny boat to take him across Delaware Avenue after it flooded.

Carducci said he preferred to wait out the storm in his condo, although he will be temporarily cut off from the city after Sandy floods Delaware Avenue.

PHOTOS: Massive U.S. storms -- Frankenstorm, Snowpocalypse and more 

City officials advised Pier 3 residents to evacuate, Carducci said, as did condo management. But only a few departed, said Gregory Scollon, the condo concierge. Most of the roughly 225 residents are staying through the storm, he said.

Philadelphia is framed on the east by the Delaware and on the west by the Schuylkill River. Mayor Michael Nutter has predicted that both will top their banks as Sandy roars through the city.

One of the most flood-prone areas of the Schuylkill is in lower Manayunk, a Philadelphia neighborhood that tumbles down a steep hillside toward the river. The lowest section of the former milltown was deserted Monday, with no people and no cars along the river’s edge.

Locals know better than to venture there during rainstorms. Late Monday, the river was fast-moving and swollen with debris. Wind whipped the trees along the banks so roughly that their branches dipped into the sweeping brown waters.

But just up the hill, along a series of shuttered shops and restaurants on nearly deserted Main Street, it was party time inside the Manayunk Tavern.  The pub was jammed with locals, who wolfed down burgers and downed draft beers.

Because many locals rely on trains to reach jobs downtown, they were stuck home on a rainy, windswept Monday after mass transit shut down. Many residents descended on the tavern, where co-owner Jeff Bender knows that a weather disaster will send a mob to his door.

"This is Saturday night for us," Bender said, shouting to be heard above the din of his boisterous clientele, at 4 p.m. on a Monday.

The rain was pounding outside. The wind was hammering the stone storefronts. The river was  surging.  It was supposed to get much worse overnight -- and a potential wholesale disaster by Tuesday -- if local emergency authorities were correct.

Would the tavern stay open anyway?

Bender shrugged. "Yeah, why not?," he said. "We’re here till the electric goes out or the streets get closed down." 

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