UPDATE: Homes still without power prove toughest to restore

Monday, February 2, 2009 | 5:46 p.m. CST; updated 7:42 p.m. CST, Monday, February 2, 2009

ST. LOUIS — All but about 44,000 homes and businesses in storm-whipped southern Missouri have regained power, but the ones that remain will be the toughest to restore.

At the height of last week's storm, when ice and snow paralyzed the region, 127,000 customers were without power. By Monday afternoon, the number had dropped to the mid-40,000s.

"We are getting better," said Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the Missouri Emergency Management Agency. "The easy restorations have been done. The difficult ones remain. They have to replace poles that were snapped, dig holes and restring wire. That takes time."

St. Louis-based AmerenUE dispatched 4,000 workers to repair damage from the storm that downed more than 4,000 poles and hundreds of lines. Ameren said that 19 of 34 southeast Missouri towns with no power should have service by the end of Monday.

The St. Louis-based utility predicted that power to all its customers would be restored Wednesday. Ameren's outage count Monday was about 12,000.

Around 23,000 electric cooperative users remain without service, and the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance said about 9,000 of its member customers are still waiting.

Meanwhile, Sikeston emergency officials reported some cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in the city.

Sgt. Jim McMillen, of the Sikeston Department of Public Safety, said gas generators must not be run in an enclosed area.

"This is a very serious issue and could cause death to everyone in the home," McMillen said.

He said using propane or kerosene heaters not approved for indoor use can emit carbon monoxide and reduce oxygen levels in the home.

Missouri Delta Medical Center in Sikeston has three patients with critical carbon monoxide poisoning and more with respiratory problems because of the cold, spokeswoman Sharon Urhahn said.

The hospital, which relied on a generator for four days until power was restored Saturday, is housing 25 chronically ill people in a special medical shelter. They're provided with nebulizers, oxygen and breathing machines they can't operate at home without electricity.

Six people have died in the southern Missouri storm, but Stonner said the death toll could rise. Various reports of hypothermia and heart attacks related to snow shoveling are being reviewed but have not yet been confirmed by the state Department of Health and Senior Services.

In rural Carter County, the town of Grandin lost all power. Roads remained sloppy, but meals and water were being delivered to rural residents.

Sixty percent of Scott County and 35 percent of Stoddard County was without power.

Power has been restored to only 20 percent of New Madrid County, mostly in the towns of New Madrid and Portageville.

"This was so massive," New Madrid County Clerk Clement Cravens said, explaining why it's taking so long to restore.

"It's a matter of miles and miles of major power lines coming into communities that are down. They can't get power to cities until the electric companies get in there and repair major transmission lines."

Cravens said the storm and resulting power outages have been especially tough on poor people.

The power outages will mean the week off for students at several area colleges.

Three Rivers Community College has canceled classes through Friday at the main campus in Poplar Bluff as well as all satellite campuses.

Also shut down for the week are regional campuses for Southeast Missouri State University in Kennett, Malden and Sikeston. The main campus in Cape Girardeau is open.

The ice storm also left hundreds of animals with no place to go.

An emergency shelter has been set up in New Madrid, a place where pet owners forced from their homes can temporarily leave their pets. The emergency shelter is aiding people in hard-hit New Madrid, Butler and Pemiscot counties.

The Humane Society of Missouri recently took 60 animals from the Caruthersville shelter.


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