Parts of St. Louis still lack power

Monday, July 24, 2006

ST. LOUIS -- More than 100 dump trucks rolled through city streets on Sunday collecting mangled trees and branches left behind by last week's powerful storms that cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

While the number of those without electricity continued to decline Sunday, piles of debris rose up to 25 feet high at one of three city drop-off points, according to parks officials.

"It's hard to believe your eyes when you are looking at something this massive," St. Louis Parks director Gary Bass said. "This is just the beginning."

Storms with 80 mph winds struck the region Wednesday and again Friday. Missouri Army National Guardsmen, sent to the St. Louis area Thursday by Gov. Matt Blunt, are helping with the cleanup.

Bess said at least 40,000 truckloads of debris will eventually be collected from the city of St. Louis alone. Similar cleanup efforts are ongoing in both Illinois and surrounding counties.

Utility crews have been restoring electricity at the rate of about 100,000 customers a day. In all, more than a half-million homes and businesses had been left in the dark -- and without air conditioners -- last week in dangerous triple-digit temperatures. So far, only four deaths in the region have been storm or heat related.

About 290,000 customers remained without power Sunday evening in the St. Louis area. Cooler weather brought relief to the city over the weekend, but temperatures are expected to reach the 90s again on Monday.

Susan Gallagher, spokeswoman for utility company AmerenUE, said it could be another four days or more before service is fully restored.

"The bottom line on giving the exact restoration time on a storm of this magnitude is difficult," she said. It takes hours in some cases just to get power back to a few thousand people.

Ameren Corp. has been running television commercials asking for the city's patience, and about 4,000 electrical workers from as far away as Arizona are now restoring power around the clock.

The Missouri Health Department has called on the help of all registered nurses and nursing assistants in the area.

A crew of nurses arrived from Kansas City Saturday to St. Louis hospitals. Emergency rooms continue to be inundated with patients who rely on power for oxygen and other medical needs.

"We're still at a heightened state as far as protecting human lives," said Jeff Rainford, Mayor Francis Slay's chief of staff.

The American Red Cross continued to run shelters and hand out free meals across the city to those who lost food in the power outage.

Rainford said the number of people at the Red Cross center dropped by two-thirds over the cool weekend, but thinks that number could rise again with higher temperatures Monday. More than 500 people spent the night in air-conditioned shelters Thursday.

Andrew Mullins, who was without power for three days, had landscaping on his mind Sunday. The 35-year-old west St. Louis resident shoveled three trash barrels full of free mulch that city workers had processed from the mountains of debris.

Parks officials said the piles of shattered limbs could stretch more than 30 football fields long. What's not turned to mulch will be cut into free firewood or sent away.

"I call the storm the grand pruning," Mullins said. "Every tree in the city was pruned."

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