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Gov. Corbett: Barrage of winter storms has taxed the patience of Pennsylvanians

February 13, 2014 at 6:05 PM EDT
With the latest powerful storm, the city of Philadelphia broke a 130-year record for snowfall in a season. Judy Woodruff talks to Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett about how his state is coping with keeping citizens safe and warm during relentlessly wintry weather.

JUDY WOODRUFF: We check in with one state that is being particularly hard-hit today.

Tom Corbett is the governor of Pennsylvania.

Governor, welcome.

What has this storm done to your state?

GOV. TOM CORBETT, R-Penn.: Well, Judy, thank you for having us on.

This is one of many storms we have had across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. And we have received a fair amount of snow in different areas of Pennsylvania, 15, 16 inches in some places. We have the continuation of the storm supposed to arrive tonight about 8:00 and go into 3:00 tomorrow morning.

So it has really taxed the patience, really, of the citizens of Pennsylvania. And, as you know, the storm last week knocked out power for over 800,000 customers in Southeastern Pennsylvania. We have power out this time not nearly as bad, only about 1,500 customers currently down, from 5,800 across the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

But it has really taxed the patience and caused a lot of closing of businesses about and a lot of closing of schools.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So how is the state coping and how are municipalities coping?

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Well, you just get out there and you plow your roads and try and be prepared for the weather, particularly the very cold weather we had last week.

We have businesses closing. I closed state government this week here in the central and southeastern part of the state. Schools have been closing. And what we try and do is keep everybody as safe as possible, warn them about, when they do lose power, not using alternative means to try and heat their houses like kerosene heaters or something in the house or bringing generators inside, because we want to reduce the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, we have — we have seen some other states, I guess especially in the South, have had these traffic highway nightmares where cars were backed up for miles on — on state roads. How do you avoid something like that in your state?

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Well, we had experienced something like that seven years ago tomorrow, when we had a huge line of traffic backed up on interstate 78 going from Harrisburg to Allentown, where people were literally stuck there for 24 hours.

And we have learned our lesson from that. And we try to plan ahead. As soon as we see the weather forecast, we have a philosophy here at the Department of Emergency Management that we will lean forward. We pre-station equipment, trucks. We pre-station heavy tow trucks. We pre-station National Guard.

As you know, we called up National Guard and put them in their armories. So we try and get ready for the worst and be ready for that. And if it doesn’t happen, then we are in a much better-off situation. So we have been blessed in the last two storms not to really have suffered a great deal of traffic as we see going on down in the Southeastern part of the country.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So what is your main worry in a situation like this?

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Well, the main worry is the loss of power and people using alternative means of trying to keep themselves warm in their homes.

The main worry also is accidents on the highways and people being careful. So we are constantly warning them of what they shouldn’t do and what they should do.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What does it do — and you and I were talking about this just before we went on the air, but what does this do to a state budget or a local budget when you set aside a certain amount of money for emergencies, weather emergencies?  What happens?  How are you situated to pay for all this?

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Well, you have to plan that into your budget. We have done it into our budget.

A few years ago, you recall Hurricane Irene came through here. That really hurt our transportation budget early on in the fiscal year. But, luckily, we had a mild winter and didn’t have to use much of our transportation budget for roads. This year, we’re getting to the middle of our budget. We are using a great develop money on salt and getting road crews out there on overtime. So at some point in time, we hope we’re going to have enough funds to get through this.

Municipalities, it’s even harder, because they — they have limited budgets also. You try and work very good deals with the salt suppliers. In fact, we have arranged to have municipalities piggyback with us, so they get a better price with their salt. It all is in the matter of planning. And I think, in the last few years, we have been planning a lot better.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And, just quickly, effect on the state’s economy?

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Well, obviously, when the stores aren’t open, there is a clear effect on the economy. Here in Harrisburg, most of the stores that I have tried to see are — have been closed.

It is the day before Valentine’s Day. So I know a lot of people might be doing their shopping tomorrow. So, hopefully, we will make it up tomorrow.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Yes, we — we’re hoping that happens all over the country.


GOV. TOM CORBETT: Absolutely.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Governor Corbett in Pennsylvania, in Harrisburg, thank you.

GOV. TOM CORBETT: Thank you very much for having me.