Valley makes the slow road back to normal

The Lehigh Valley's recovery from superstorm Sandy seemed to be proceeding slowly but surely on Wednesday, with streets coming to life and the area's electric utilities saying most power would be restored by the end of the weekend.

But the return to normalcy was overshadowed by news that the Valley's death toll from the storm had risen to five.

A 66-year-old Carbon County man died Tuesday of carbon monoxide poisoning from fumes from a generator in the garage of his home in the Albrightsville section of Penn Forest Township. His name had not been released.

In Lower Macungie Township, Tammy Kerosetz, 48, of the 3600 block of Schoeneck Road, died sometime before 8:30 a.m. Tuesday when carbon monoxide from a gas-powered generator in her garage entered her home.

Meanwhile, 86-year-old Theresa Schlitzer of the Orefield section of South Whitehall Township was found dead Tuesday morning in her backyard in the 2400 block of Route 309. The Lehigh County coroner's office attributed her death to hypothermia from prolonged exposure that began sometime after 10:30 p.m. Monday.

Julia Gravatt, who was watching her grandchildren next door, said Schlitzer lived alone and had probably gone outside to check on something.

"She was an independent woman," Gravatt said. "I saw her just about a week ago on a big John Deere [mower]."

Kerosetz, a mother of two, was home alone during the storm. She had been having problems with the generator after she lost power, said her brother-in-law, John Kline, who lives near Kutztown.

Kline said he and his wife, Pam, were unable to drive to Kerosetz's house to help her because of fallen trees in his area.

"We thought it best to wait it out," he said.

Kline drove to Kerosetz's house about 2:30 p.m. Tuesday to check on her and found her near a stairway inside the home. He said her dog and several cats were also dead. The generator had been running inches from the garage door — a deadly mistake, because the combustion produced odorless, colorless carbon monoxide.

Ben Galiardo, Lower Macungie's deputy emergency management coordinator, said people using generators should place them outside.

Kline said his sister-in-law had a son and a daughter, both of whom were in foster care. He said Kerosetz had been working at a restaurant at Dorney Park. He described her as an animal lover who was originally from North Carolina.

"Maybe if we could have come over, it wouldn't have happened," Kline said.

The family of the Penn Forest man who died of carbon monoxide poisoning still had not been notified late Wednesday, Carbon County Coroner Bruce Nalesnik said. The man lived on Patten Circle in the Valley View Estates development, Nalesnik said.

The area's other storm victims were Robert Mills, 17, of Wind Gap, who suffered fatal injuries Monday after crashing an all-terrain vehicle into a fallen tree in Plainfield Township; and a 62-year-old Berks County man, Gerald Witman, who died Monday when a tree fell on his home in Pike Township, near Boyertown.

At least four other deaths in Pennsylvania were blamed on the storm, and the U.S. death toll had risen to 57 by Wednesday.

The main task of the recovery was restoring power. Millions of homes and businesses in the enormous storm zone were without electricity in Sandy's immediate aftermath, including 1.5 million in Pennsylvania.

Late Wednesday, the Lehigh Valley's biggest utility, Allentown-based PPL, reported 227,768 customers remained without power throughout its 29-county service area. Joe Nixon, a company spokesman, said the utility's repair crews were dealing with 3,300 problems across 10,000 square miles.

PPL reported 115,238 outages in Lehigh and Northampton counties alone as of 8 p.m. Wednesday.