National Guard still helping out in St. Louis

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Downed trees and tree limbs still littered some St. Louis neighborhoods Monday as National Guard troops from the 1140th Engineer Battalion in Cape Girardeau sawed and hauled off debris from last week's powerful storms.

The cleanup work continued as utility crews worked to restore electricity. About 231,000 homes and businesses in the St. Louis area were still without power Monday. That was the down from the more than a half-million homes and businesses left powerless last week under scorching temperatures.

With all the power expected back on by Wednesday, local guardsmen expect they could be returning home by mid-week.

Three volunteers from the Salvation Army in Cape Girardeau cooked and served meals to hundreds of storm victims over the weekend -- many of them in the metro-east cities of Collinsville and Trenton in Illinois.

Charles Truitt of Cape Girardeau spent the weekend cooking hundreds of hamburgers on a grill and handing out bottles of water. "There are just trees down everywhere," he said Monday afternoon from a fire station in a low-income community near Collinsville.

Many residents have remained in their homes despite the widespread power outage and the heat. "A lot of them, especially the elderly, are staying because they are afraid somebody will come in and loot them," said Truitt. "Everything they've got is in their homes."

Ice is in short supply as people try to stay cool, he said.

Truitt said he and other volunteers have been working 12 to 14 hours a day. "We are serving over 700 people a day," he said.

Guardsmen have helped clear hundreds of city blocks of damaged tree limbs and uprooted trees. "So many people have no electricity, and it is hot," said Spc. Mitchell Kester with the 1140th.

Guardsmen were deployed to the St. Louis area last Thursday. They worked with other emergency personnel to check on the health and safety of city residents as well as handle cleanup efforts along St. Louis streets.

"We handed out a lot of water and checked on a lot of people," said Kester. Guardsmen checked 193 city blocks, 45 high-rise buildings and nine nursing homes. "Some people are getting cranky because they haven't had power," he said.

But residents also have welcomed the troops and their cleanup efforts, said Kester.

The 1140th deployed 220 soldiers to the St. Louis area, but 42 of them have been reassigned to the Potosi, Mo., area to distribute water to storm victims.

Spec. Heather Lindsay of Cape Girardeau said 8,000 people were without power in the Potosi area.

"We handed out hand-held fans to help them keep cool. We tried to give water bottles to the elderly or children," she said.

"A lot of people have been really thankful that we were checking on them."

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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