In freezing weather, hundreds of thousands wait for electricity in Missouri, Illinois

Saturday, December 2nd 2006, 10:35 pm
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) The temperature barely rose into the 20s Sunday as hundreds of thousands waited for their electricity to be restored after it was knocked out in a devastating ice and snow storm.

Tawana Jean Cooper and her family spent Sunday at a Red Cross warming center in St. Louis, which they reached a day earlier from her suburban home after roads were cleared of ice, downed power lines and broken tree limbs.

Her three young grandchildren joined her at the shelter.

``They know this is not home. They know this is a disaster,'' Cooper said as she cradled her sleeping 5-month-old granddaughter in her arms.

``The American Red Cross has been a God's blessing,'' she said. About six dozen others also spent the night at the shelter.

Missouri National Guardsmen had been sent into the area to knock on doors and make sure people were safe. By early afternoon Sunday, the St. Louis temperature had reached only about 22 degrees, the National Weather Service said.

Thursday's storm was blamed for at least 15 deaths as it spread ice and deep snow from Texas to Michigan and then blew through the Northeast late Friday and early Saturday. Thousands of travelers were stranded by canceled flights, highways clogged by abandoned vehicles and stalled trains.

By Sunday afternoon, about 350,000 customers of St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. had no electricity in a roughly 300-mile swath from Jackson, Missouri, northeast to Pontiac, Illinois, paralleling the track of the storm. Spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said about 200,000 were in Missouri and about 150,000 in central and southern Illinois.

The utility said Sunday it would not estimate when power will be totally restored.

Trees throughout the region were glazed with a thick coat of ice that reflected the sunlight and also snapped tree limbs, bringing power lines down with them.

``It's slow,'' said Ameren repairman Bernie Kutz, after completing a job in south St. Louis. ``The tools are freezing somewhat, and nothing wants to work right.''

At the peak of the outages Friday, 510,000 customers were without power, Gallagher said. Hundreds of thousands also lost power in the other states hit by the storm.

In Peoria, Illinois, fire officials urged homeowners to check their roofs after a nursing home ceiling collapsed, injuring four residents.

In Belleville, Illinois, 20 miles east of St. Louis, most of the 100 cots at Westhaven Elementary School had been in use as a Red Cross shelter since noon Friday.

For much of the region, it was a reminder of the widespread outages caused by severe thunderstorms in July, when 948,000 in Missouri and Illinois were blacked out.