Hundreds remain in St. Louis shelters

Sunday, July 23, 2006

About half the city was still without electricity Saturday.

ST. LOUIS -- The heat was down and the skies were clear, but Kim Beck could only laugh when asked Saturday whether things were slowing down at the Salvation Army shelter she manages in suburban St. Louis.

"Far from it," Beck said. "We had 95 people spend the night last night. It may not be hot, but they don't have power. Here they get the creature comforts -- they can eat, they can watch TV, some are even doing their laundry."

The shelter was just one spot where the city's weather-battered residents found a haven as the region began recovering from a week that brought 100-degree heat and one of the worst storms ever to hit the area, followed by another big thunderstorm Friday.

The forecast was free of any immediate problematic weather. Weekend highs were expected to be in the 80s with little humidity.

Still, the region's leaders weren't ready to relax.

"We will not back off our efforts," Mayor Francis Slay said Saturday. "There still is a significant risk."

The main risk stems from the lack of power. About half the city is still without electricity, and regionwide, about 410,000 homes and businesses remained dark.

It was expected to be early next week before power was restored. Ameren Corp. was being helped by utility workers borrowed from other companies, working around the clock to get the lights back on. All told, about 3,000 workers were fanning throughout the region.

Emergency rooms were swamped with those who rely on power for oxygen and other medical needs.

Also on Saturday, the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services and the Missouri Hospital Association put out a call for registered nurses and trained nursing assistants to volunteer for relief efforts. The most pressing needs were for intensive care, pediatric, emergency and dialysis nurses, the department said.

Hundreds remained in shelters set up by the American Red Cross, while others were still at some of the "cooling centers" set up around the region. At Beck's Salvation Army Family Haven, many overnight guests came directly from hospitals. Some were in wheelchairs, and a few were Alzheimer's patients.

"It's sad when you're still not feeling your best and you have to go to an emergency shelter," Beck said.

The weather has been blamed for four St. Louis-area deaths. Elderly people in St. Louis and De Soto died in homes where the air conditioners lost power; an East St. Louis man died after coming in contact with a downed power line; and a 42-year-old dump truck driver from High Ridge died when the wind blew a steel box onto him.

The outage raised concerns about looting or theft, but St. Louis Police Col. Stephen Pollihan said there was no increase in crime. Extra patrols were out, with emphasis on neighborhoods without power.

The storm hit many areas that were spared by the bigger one on Wednesday. On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, thousands were without power, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared several counties state disaster areas.

"We're pretty confident there were some tornadoes over there," National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Sieveking said.

In Arkansas, a young boy was injured when winds blew over a travel trailer, trapping him underneath, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said. Chainsaws were used to cut him free.

President Bush on Friday approved Missouri's request for an expedited disaster declaration, which mobilizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and provides federal funding for debris removal and other emergency needs. Members of the Missouri National Guard were helping with cleanup.

Hundreds of businesses -- especially grocery stores and restaurants -- remained closed Saturday because they had no power. Boeing Co. had to shut down its defense plant Friday after the lights went out, sending 4,000 workers home. Officials weren't sure when the power would be restored there.

As Missouri sweltered this week, it had plenty of company.

It hit 118 degrees Friday in Phoenix, making it the hottest day since 1995 and one of the 11 hottest since 1895, when temperature records were first kept in the city.

Oklahoma City was so hot Friday that a portion of Interstate 44 buckled, forcing the temporary closure of two lanes. Oklahoma's death toll rose to seven as the state medical examiner's office said heat caused the deaths of four elderly people on Thursday.

Heat-related deaths also have been reported this week in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: