Thousands without power across Missouri, Illinois

Monday, December 4, 2006
A Sumpter Utilities power crew from South Carolina was shown through ice-covered downed trees as they worked to restore power to homes in East St. Louis, Ill., Sunday. Officials at Ameren have indicated that about 350,000 customers in Illinois and Missouri are without electrical power from a winter storm that hit last week. (James A. Finley ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- The temperature barely rose into the 20s Sunday as hundreds of thousands waited for the restoration of electrical service that was knocked out by a devastating ice and snow storm.

Tawana Jean Cooper and her family spent Sunday at a Red Cross warming center in St. Louis, which they were able to reach Saturday from her suburban home after roads were cleared of ice, downed power lines and broken tree limbs left by Thursday's storm.

Joining her at the shelter were three young grandchildren.

"They know this is not home. They know this is a disaster," Cooper said as she cradled her sleeping 5-month-old granddaughter in her arms.

"The American Red Cross has been a God's blessing," she said. About six dozen others also spent the night at the shelter.

Missouri National Guardsmen had been sent into the area to knock on doors and make sure people were safe. By early afternoon Sunday, the St. Louis temperature had reached only about 22 degrees, the National Weather Service said.

The storm was blamed for at least 15 deaths as it spread ice and deep snow from Texas to Michigan and then blew through the Northeast late Friday and early Saturday.

By Sunday afternoon, about 350,000 customers of St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. had no electricity in a roughly 300-mile swath from Jackson, Mo., northeast to Pontiac, Ill., paralleling the track of the storm. Spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said about 200,000 of those were Missouri customers and the rest were Illinois customers.

The utility said Sunday it would not estimate when power will be totally restored.

Trees throughout the region were glazed with a thick coat of ice that reflected the sunlight and also snapped tree limbs, bringing power lines down with them.

"It's slow," said Ameren repairman Bernie Kutz, after completing a job in south St. Louis. "The tools are freezing somewhat, and nothing wants to work right."

At the peak of the outages on Friday, 510,000 customers were without power, Gallagher said. Hundreds of thousands also lost power in the other states hit by the storm.

For much of the region, it was a reminder of the widespread outages caused by severe thunderstorms in July, when 948,000 in Missouri and Illinois were blacked out.

In Belleville, Ill., 20 miles east of St. Louis, Westhaven Elementary School had been in use as a Red Cross shelter since noon Friday. Most of the 100 cots in the gymnasium were spoken for, as were the site's six hospital-style beds for people with special needs, the shelter's day manager said.

Aside from "one or two little disagreements with what we do, all things considered people have been very, very nice and cooperative," Gerald Ellis said.

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