Blunt calls in Guard

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Today, 30 soldiers are making door-to-door well-being checks in Cape Girardeau and Bollinger counties.

Gov. Matt Blunt called up the citizen-soldiers of the Missouri National Guard late Wednesday to deal with the effects of a storm that left behind a thick layer of ice.

Not since 1979 can Dan Drury recall weather like he saw this week. The National Guard came then, too. But Drury said the thick layer of ice coating virtually everything outside beats the 24 inches of snow dumped here Feb. 25, 1979.

Drury, president of MidAmerica Hotels Corp., has worked as a first responder. He still listens to the police scanner and heard a flurry of calls in the last 48 hours.

His company's hotels were booked, as were all the others from Perryville, Mo., to Sikeston, Mo.

By Wednesday night, 71 people were settling into cots or chairs at three Red Cross shelters: six people in Cape Girardeau, 45 in Jackson and 20 in Marble Hill.

Martha Ivester watched as her Vickie Street neighborhood in Cape Girardeau kept power but lost landscaping.

"We have lights, too, but oh, the trees in our front yard are just shredded," she said.

Most of the 79 people who spent Tuesday night in Red Cross shelters -- one in Cape Girardeau, one in Jackson -- slept fitfully. By Wednesday, they were, for the most part, headed home, if only to check for lights and care for pets left behind before returning.

Emergency operations managers in each county continued work started Monday. Scott County's Joel Evans was a one-man band, orchestrating the opening of warming centers, closing all but one by today. Cape Girardeau County's Dick Knaup shared his basement office at the county administration building in Jackson with Red Cross officials. They raised their voices to be heard over the sound of ringing phones and buzzing police scanners.

While everyone else seemed to be getting power back, Fruitland's power outages grew, from 1,000 customers to 1,500 as the sun set Wednesday.

Maj. Ben Stillwell opened the Salvation Army's warming center after sheltering six people and one puppy Tuesday night, only to close Wednesday morning after electricity stopped for several hours. He reopened the building late Wednesday afternoon, prepared to shelter people again if necessary.

Utility companies braced for the brisk winds predicted for today, but worried just as much over the thaw. If the ice melts too quickly, tree limbs will spring back in slingshot fashion, damaging electric wires again.

Mark Baker lost power at his Jackson home just after midnight Monday and got it back more than 18 hours later. He drove to an Ameren staging site at the Osage Community Centre's parking lot Wednesday, greeting and thanking dozens of utility workers who came from as far as Kansas City, Mo., to help make repairs. A former Ameren worker himself, Baker is a union representative for International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

"I'm making sure labor-management issues don't impede progress," he said.

Sherri Brethold's plan to spring into action as health and safety services director for the Southeast Missouri Chapter of the Red Cross was launched early when power failed at her Jackson home. Already slated to work at the Immaculate Conception shelter, she brought her two daughters, a sister-in-law and a nephew. She and others fiddled with the thermostat to nudge the heat to 73 degrees.

pmcnichol@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 127

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