Outages prompt concerns as triple-digit heat forecast in Missouri

Monday, August 13, 2007

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- The utility company AmerenUE scrambled Monday to restore power to thousands in the St. Louis area as more triple-digit temperatures were expected through much of the week. But finally, a break in the deadly Midwestern heat wave was on the horizon.

A sudden storm developed overnight, bringing rain, high winds and lightning to much of eastern Missouri. Areas around Mark Twain Lake in northeast Missouri received more than 2 inches of rain, and some roads were closed in the Hannibal area as winds knocked down trees and power lines. The roof was damaged at a car dealership in St. Charles County.

The biggest number of outages was in the St. Louis area, where about 33,000 Ameren customers were still without electricity late Monday morning. Ameren brought in hundreds of line workers from outside the region to try and restore power -- and air conditioning.

The hot, humid weather that has baked the Midwest the past two weeks is expected to get worse before it finally gets better. The National Weather Service forecast a high of 105 degrees on Tuesday in St. Louis, followed by 104 degrees on Wednesday and 100 degrees on Thursday.

Then -- finally -- a break.

"We'll have hot days through Thursday, but by the weekend highs will be 85 to 90 degrees," National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pedigo said. "Then there's going to be a cloudy, wet period next week."

Computer models show a potential hurricane moving toward the Gulf Coast by the middle of next week, a storm that could impact weather in the Midwest, keeping temperatures down and bringing even more rain, Pedigo said.

The storms that hit eastern Missouri late Sunday and early Monday offered much-needed rain and a brief respite from the heat. But they also brought damage, mostly from winds reaching up to 80 mph in some spots.

A St. Louis County woman was hurt when she was struck by a falling branch. Sharon Cohen, 62, of St. John, was in critical condition.

Ameren said the storm left more than 63,000 customers without power at its peak.

"We have called out all Ameren company crews and available contractor crews throughout the region," Ameren senior vice president Richard Mark said.

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said there has been one report of a heat-related death in the state during the heat wave. The Jackson County Health Department reported Friday that a 47-year-old Jackson County man died because of exposure to excessive heat.

The state health department said there have been 870 reported heat-related illnesses this year, nearly all of them over the past two weeks.

The heat wave is believed responsible for three deaths on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area. A 57-year-old Prairietown man and a 53-year-old Alton man were found dead Thursday in their homes, each without air conditioning. Routine toxicology tests will be done in both cases to determine whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the deaths, authorities said.

Also last week, in East St. Louis, Ill., 87-year-old James Erby was found dead in a bed in his home, which also lacked air conditioning.

Steve Nonn, the coroner in Madison County, Ill., said the deaths illustrate the importance of checking on the welfare of neighbors, especially the vulnerable elderly.

"This is a time of year when it is important to be a busybody, knock on a door and ask, 'Are you OK?"' Noon said. "It is an act of nosiness that just may save someone's life."

Sunday's high in St. Louis reached 102 degrees. It was even worse in other cities. Chesterfield in west St. Louis County reached 105 degrees. So did Rolla in south-central Missouri. Farmington and West Plains each got to 104.

This week's highs could approach all-time records. The highest-ever reading in St. Louis on Aug. 14 was 102 degrees in 1936. That same year, the reading on Aug. 15 hit a record 104 degrees.

"Those are reachable numbers," Pedigo said.

Southern Illinois correspondent Jim Suhr contributed to this story.

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