16 in Missouri and Illinois confirmed dead from storm and its aftermath

Wednesday, December 6, 2006
Firefighters searched through the rubble of New Haven Lumber in New Haven, Mo., on Tuesday after the roof collapsed earlier in the day. Heavy snow on the roof was blamed for the collapse. All workers and customers got out without injury, said city clerk Carolyn Scheer. (J.B. FORBES ~ St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

ST. LOUIS -- For more than 160,000 Midwesterners without power for a sixth day Tuesday, trying to stay warm can be just as dangerous as facing below-freezing temperatures.

Sixteen deaths in Missouri and Illinois have been blamed on last week's winter storm and its aftermath, and frustrations with the prolonged power outage prompted some harsh criticism of Ameren Corp. on Tuesday by Missouri's utility regulators.

Eleven of the confirmed deaths were in Missouri. Nine more deaths in the two states -- five in Missouri, four in Illinois -- were suspected to be weather-related.

Using portable generators or burning other fuels indoors has killed at least two people and sickened dozens in the St. Louis area since power went out Thursday night. The generators give off lethal carbon monoxide, which can accumulate quickly inside homes.

By Tuesday, at least 43 people had been admitted to hospitals in the St. Louis area due to carbon monoxide poisoning, according to authorities.

A majority of the illnesses occurred in St. Louis County, where 38 people were hospitalized, county police spokeswoman Tracy Panuss said. That's nearly triple the 13 people admitted for hypothermia, she said. Five people were hospitalized in St. Louis city, according to the fire department.

Two men died in St. Louis over the weekend after trying to heat their home by burning charcoal in a cooking wok.

St. Louis County employees and Missouri National Guard members were going door to door in neighborhoods still without power Tuesday, warning people not to run generators inside.

By Tuesday evening, more than 141,000 homes and businesses remained without power in Missouri and Illinois, according to Ameren. All but 39,000 of those were in the St. Louis metro area, the company said.

Ameren has roughly 7,000 people working to restore power -- a prolonged task because most of the damage was done when trees fell on neighborhood power lines, as opposed to high-powered transmission lines. That means each repair job now is restoring power to 30 or 40 customers at a time instead of 1,000, said company vice president Ron Zdellar.

The Missouri Public Service Commission brought Ameren's chief operating officer to its Jefferson City meeting Tuesday to hear an explanation for the extended power outages. But commissioners weren't satisfied with executive vice president Thomas Voss' explanation that the ice storm was the worst to hit the St. Louis since Dec. 31, 1978, and that most of the damage was caused by trees rooted outside its easements.

Voss said after the meeting that he understood the frustration -- both from customers and utility regulators.

"We'll focus on improving," Voss said in an interview, "but there is no silver bullet, there is no easy answer."

Heavy snow on the roof was blamed for a collapse at a lumber company in eastern Missouri. The roof gave way Tuesday morning at New Haven Lumber in the Franklin County town of New Haven, about 50 miles west of St. Louis. All workers and customers got out without injury, said city clerk Carolyn Scheer.

"You could see the whole roof collapsed inside the store," Scheer said. "One of the people next door has a beauty shop and said you could hear it rumbling. I guess they heard it coming."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: