Thousands still without power after Friday storm

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Residents of the Midwest cleared away wreckage Saturday following a wave of storms that splintered homes and knocked out power to thousands.

Hundreds of homes and businesses were damaged or destroyed Friday in Kansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri and 150,000 Missouri utility customers lost power.

About 6,900 of Citizens Electric Cooperative's 27,000 members were still without power Saturday. While all members in Ste. Genevieve and St. Francois counties were expected to have power restored by the end of Saturday, the company said it could be four days before restoration is complete in Cape Girardeau and Perry counties. Crews from Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky and Missouri are helping the cooperative restore power.

About 13,000 Black River Electric Cooperative members were without power Saturday night, according to the company's website. About 100 extra linemen and 150 tree trimmers from other Missouri cooperatives are helping in restoration efforts. Repairs are expected to last through this week.

In the Farmington area, about 6,550 AmerenUE customers were without power Saturday night.

More than 56,000 Ameren customers in Southern Illinois, including nearly 3,000 in Union County, still had no electricity Saturday, the company said. Ameren said it hopes to have the lights back on for everyone by midnight Tuesday.

Ron Pate, Ameren Illinois Utilities vice president of regional operations, described the storm as an "inland hurricane" that brought down hundreds of utility poles, slammed trees into transmission lines and destroyed equipment in Carbondale, Marion and other surrounding areas in Illinois.

Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn on Saturday declared Franklin, Jackson and Williamson counties disaster areas.

The Southeast Missouri chapter of the American Red Cross has opened a shelter at Perryville United Methodist Church, 314 W. North St. Executive director Cheryl Klueppel said eight people had sought refuge at the shelter Saturday night.

Those seeking relief assistance or other information may contact the Red Cross at 335-9471.

Jim Bollinger, emergency management director for Bollinger County, said most roads had reopened and that the emergency command center at Meadow Heights School in Patton was shut down shortly before 9 p.m. Saturday.

Bollinger said crews worked until 10 p.m. Friday and most of Saturday to clear roads and help residents.

"Neighbor has been helping neighbor," Bollinger said. "It's phenomenal what they've done for one another."

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear declared an emergency in central and southeastern sections of his state Saturday, and West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin made the same declaration for six counties in that state.

Trees were down and windows were broken on the campus of Southern Illinois University's Carbondale campus, but the school said weekend commencement ceremonies would go on scheduled. Friday's graduation ceremonies were canceled.

The National Weather Service said it received multiple reports of tornadoes from one end of Missouri to the other, mostly south of Interstate 44.

The weather service confirmed that at least two tornadoes touched down Friday morning in southwest Missouri's Greene County. The county's Office of Emergency Management counted three homes and one business destroyed with 298 homes, 29 businesses and 13 schools damaged.

In Southern Illinois, the storm system peeled siding and roofs off homes and other buildings, blowing out car windows and tearing up trailer parks. Wind gusted to 100 mph in the Carbondale area and sustained wind was measured up to 90 mph.

On Saturday, a line of thunderstorms stretched from Arkansas and northern Mississippi across Tennessee and Kentucky.

Some homes were evacuated early Saturday in southern West Virginia because of flooding caused by more than 2 inches of rain, said state Homeland Security Operations Director Paul Howard. High water also closed several main roads. No injuries were reported. Appalachian Power reported nearly 10,000 customers without service.

Staff writer Brian Blackwell contributed to this report.

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