Temperatures above freezing Tuesday as Missouri and Illinois residents await end of blackout

Tuesday, December 5th 2006, 6:18 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) The temperature rose back above the freezing mark Tuesday as hundreds of thousands of people waited for the restoration of electrical service that was knocked out by last week's snow and ice storm.

After a run of temperatures in the teens, St. Louis thermometers reached the 40s Tuesday. The temperature was expected to fall into the 20s overnight, although no additional snow or ice was in the immediate forecast, the National Weather Service said.

Residents without power were using portable generators or burning coal and other fuels indoors to stay warm. That proved as dangerous as the below-freezing temperatures. At least 38 people in the St. Louis area were hospitalized with carbon monoxide poisoning, and two people had died by Tuesday, authorities said.

The 38 hospitalized for carbon monoxide poisoning is nearly triple the number admitted for hypothermia, county police spokeswoman Tracy Panuss said.

At least 25 deaths are believed to be related to the storm, which cut a snowy, icy path across the Midwest and into the Northeast last week. Another nine deaths are suspected to be weather-related.

The St. Louis-based utility Ameren Corp. reported about 147,000 homes and businesses still without power Tuesday evening in Illinois and Missouri. The bulk of the outages were in St. Louis' metropolitan area.

The utility said some 7,000 people were working to restore power, but it would take several more days to reconnect all its customers.

"We've had some ice storms before. This one puts them to shame," Ron Zdellar, vice president of energy for Ameren, said Monday.

Utility crews were working 18-hour shifts, especially in the biggest problem areas, where ice coated roads and utility poles. Workers from 14 states were helping.

"You can't imagine how bad the debris is in some areas," said Ameren spokesman Leigh Morris in Illinois. "You can't get to a downed line if you can't get down the roadway."

About 250 Illinois National Guard soldiers were in the Decatur, Illinois, area Tuesday to visit homes without power, said Patti Thompson, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Emergency Management Agency. A medical emergency response team also had been sent to Decatur to help with medical care at a shelter for people with special needs.

The Missouri National Guard was sent to the St. Louis area shortly after Thursday's storm to make sure people were surviving without electric light and heat.

The American Red Cross had four warming shelters open in the St. Louis. The organization has sheltered 1,100 people and served 9,000 meals and snacks since the power went out, said spokesman Stephen Hall.