Pennsylvania's response to a storm that stranded hundreds of motorists for up to a day on an interstate highway is reminiscent of Bush Administration after Hurricane Katrina.
"How could you operate a state like this?"
Good question from a Connecticut motorist stuck on a Pennsylvania highway for nearly a day without food, water, heat, fuel or information of when help might arrive.
Welcome to Ed Rendell's Pennsylvania. Travel at your own risk. Pack your survival gear because you can't depend on any help from the state government.
Pennsylvania made the national headlines. Unfortunately, the headlines read something like this: "Hundreds of furious motorists stranded for hours on Pa. highway" and "Nightmare on I-78"
The stories detailed the harrowing experience of motorists trapped without food, water, medicine or fuel on one of the state's most heavily traveled highways. The storm hit Valentine's Day, stranding truckers and motorists on an icy stretch of Interstate 78.
Hundreds of travelers, many from across the country, were still stuck on the road into Thursday afternoon. Gov. Ed Rendell eventually called out the National Guard to deliver food, water, baby supplies and fuel to the stranded motorists.
The state's slow response to a potentially life-threatening emergency has opened officials to widespread criticism.
"How could you operate a state like this? It's totally disgusting," Eugene Coleman, of Hartford, Conn., told the Associated Press.
Coleman, who is hyperglycemic, was trapped for 20 hours while on his way home from visiting his terminally ill mother in Georgia, along with his girlfriend and pregnant daughter, the wire service reported. They had no food or water for about 18 hours and Coleman said his legs were swollen.
"God forbid somebody gets really stuck on the highway and has a life-threatening emergency. That person would have died," Coleman told the AP.
Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell initially blamed the inability of his transportation department or emergency management officials to deal with the storm on "Mother Nature." At least that's what his spokeswoman had to say.
"At this point, Mother Nature is the only one to blame," spokesperson Kate Philips said.
Hmmmm ... I'm not buying that excuse, Kate. This is the middle of Pennsylvania in the middle of winter, not a Third World country.
I'm more inclined to place the blame squarely on the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), the Pennsylvania State Police, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and Gov. Ed "Teflon" Rendell.
Consider the following:
* Pennsylvania is consistently ranked at the top of the list of the worst roads in the country.
* TV weather guys and gals have been predicting the storm for 10 days.
* PennDOT has been sitting around for months waiting for something to do during an unusually mild winter.
* PennDOT officials apparently decided not to start plowing I-78 in the early hours of the snowstorm. * Problems on I-78 began early Wednesday, but continued and got worse into Thursday morning.
* One report said a PennDOT crew re-opened a closed ramp to I-78 even though hundreds of vehicles were already trapped on the highway, leading other motorists to end up stuck on the roadway.
Rendell's response is reminiscent of Bush Administration after Hurricane Katrina.
A 50-mile backup on one of your major roads is not something you blame on "Mother Nature." It's a fiasco that could have been avoided if state officials weren't asleep at the wheel.
"It's February, it's a snowstorm," Gay Elwell of Easton, told The Morning Call in Allentown after sitting in the jam from 1:30 p.m. to after 9 p.m. Wednesday. "They had plenty of time to get ready for it. It boggles my mind that the traffic is tied up for eight hours and I don't know why."
Rendell said he will order a review of various state agencies and their performance once the crisis is over, but the governor's office announced Thursday it was satisfied with state government's response to the storm, Philips said.
Ask the hundreds of stranded motorists and their worried family members if they're "satisfied with the state's performance."
PennDOT, the National Guard and the emergency management agency were all doing "exactly what they're supposed to do in the time they were supposed to," Rendell spokeswoman Philips said, sounding a lot like former FEMA Director Mike Brown.
A full-blown investigation of the Rendell administration's handling of the storm is in order.
At least one state lawmaker called for just that Thursday. Republican State Rep. Doug Reichley, whose district covers parts of Berks and Lehigh counties, said the failure to deal with the storm "demands an explanation."
"I think we need to bring all the facts together to see what happened," Reichley said. "Was this a breakdown in communication? Why did this dangerous situation persist so long? We want to ensure this type of calamity does not happen again."
Tony Phyrillas is a leading conservative political columnist and blogger based in Pennsylvania. He is a veteran journalist with 25 years experience as a reporter, editor and columnist for several newspapers. Phyrillas received recognition for column writing in 2010 from the Associated Press Managing Editors, in 2007 from Suburban Newspapers of America and in 2006 from the Society of Professional Journalists, Keystone Chapter. A graduate of Penn State University, Phyrillas is the city editor and political columnist for The Mercury, a two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning daily newspaper in Pottstown, Pa. In addition to The Mercury website (www.pottsmerc.com), his columns are featured on more than a dozen political websites and blogs. Phyrillas is a frequent guest (and occasional host) on talk radio and has been a panelist on the "Journalists Roundtable" public affairs TV program on the Pennsylvania Cable Network (PCN). Phyrillas was named one of the '10 Leading Greek-American Bloggers in the World' in 2007 by Odyssey: The World of Greece magazine. BlogNetNews.com ranked Phyrillas the Most Influential Political Blogger in Pennsylvania for three consecutive years (2007-2010). You can follow Phyrillas on Twitter @TonyPhyrillas