Heat, storm recovery slow in St. Louis

Published July 23, 2006

ST. LOUIS - The heat was down and the skies were clear, but Kim Beck could only laugh when asked Saturday whether things were slowing down at the Salvation Army shelter she manages in suburban St. Louis.

"Far from it," Beck said. "We had 95 people spend the night last night. It may not be hot, but they don't have power. Here they get the creature comforts - they can eat, they can watch TV, some are even doing their laundry."

The shelter was just one spot where the city's citizens found a haven as the region began recovering from a week that brought 100-degree heat and one of the worst storms ever to hit the area, followed by another big thunderstorm Friday.

The forecast was free of any immediate problematic weather. Weekend highs were expected to be in the 80s with little humidity.

It is expected to be several days before power is restored. About half the city was still without electricity Saturday, and about 410,000 homes and businesses remained dark in the St. Louis area.

Ameren Corp. was being helped by utility employees from other companies, working around the clock to get the lights back on. About 3,000 workers were fanning throughout the area.

Emergency rooms were swamped with those who rely on power for oxygen and other medical needs.

Hundreds remained in shelters set up by the American Red Cross, while others were still at some of the dozens of "cooling centers" set up around the region. At Beck's Salvation Army Family Haven, many overnight guests came directly from hospitals. Some were in wheelchairs.

"It's sad when you're still not feeling your best and you have to go to an emergency shelter," Beck said.

The weather has been blamed for four St. Louis-area deaths. Elderly people in St. Louis and De Soto died in homes where the air conditioners lost power; an East St. Louis man died after coming in contact with a downed power line; and a 42-year-old dump truck driver from High Ridge died when the wind blew a steel box onto him.

In Arkansas, a boy was injured when winds blew over a travel trailer, trapping him underneath, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said. Chainsaws were used to cut him free.

On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, thousands were without power, and Gov. Rod Blagojevich declared several counties state disaster areas.

President Bush on Friday approved Missouri's request for an expedited disaster declaration, which mobilizes FEMA and provides federal funding for debris removal and other emergency needs. Members of the Missouri National Guard were helping with cleanup.

Hundreds of businesses - especially grocery stores and restaurants - remained closed Saturday because they had no power.