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Patience growing thin in Midwest power outage

Last week’s winter storm was fresh in the minds of the 52,000 customers without power in Missouri and Illinois, the majority who are in Illinois.
Illinois Army National Guard member Brittany Nora, right, checks on Tuesday on resident Vivian Palmer, who is still without electricity from last week's ice storm in Decatur, Ill.
Illinois Army National Guard member Brittany Nora, right, checks on Tuesday on resident Vivian Palmer, who is still without electricity from last week's ice storm in Decatur, Ill.Seth Perlman / AP file
/ Source: The Associated Press

Ann Hill had already burned through $300 on hotels and restaurants since her house was plunged into darkness by a snowstorm, and she was on the verge of blowing her own fuse.

“I’m broke and fed up,” Hill said Wednesday at a church shelter in the central Illinois city of Decatur, among the communities that suffered most from last week’s storm. “I’ve had it. Enough is enough.”

High winds overnight and into Thursday only made matters worse across the region: The number of Ameren Corp. customers without power in Missouri and Illinois was up to more than 52,000, the majority of those in Illinois, Ameren spokeswoman Susan Gallagher said.

Crews likely would be working into Friday and perhaps Saturday to restore power, she said.

“We definitely understand their frustration; we share their frustration,” said Ameren spokeswoman Erica Abbett. “We appreciate our customers’ patience.”

The storm plowed through the Midwest late last week, dropping snow and coating the region with ice before carrying the wind and thunderstorms into the Northeast. At least 18 deaths have been blamed on the storm in Illinois and Missouri.

Brent Stubblefield was among a few dozen workers from Tennessee-based Service Electric Co. who made a nine-hour drive to the St. Louis area to help restore power.

With Stubblefield and his co-workers bundled against temperatures in the 30s, working to restore power in Belleville, a woman came up and said they were in her prayers. Others have offered them coffee.

“Everybody here has been polite,” said Stubblefield, a 27-year-old journeyman lineman. “Just as nice as can be.”

The Illinois Commerce Commission announced Wednesday that it had asked staff to develop recommendations for an investigation into Ameren’s preparedness and response to the storm. The plan is to be reviewed at the next public meetings of the state’s utility regulator, scheduled for Dec. 19-20.

“Without prejudging the company’s response, we think it’s fair to examine the situation and ask the hard questions for the public we serve,” commissioner Kevin Wright said in an agency release.

State of disaster declared
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has declared 49 Illinois counties state disaster areas, helping the Illinois Emergency Management Agency coordinate resources to support local communities with storm recovery efforts.

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt is hopeful of getting a presidential declaration of disaster based on damage reported in all 114 counties, said Blunt spokesman Brian Hauswirth. That would free up funds for reimbursement.

It’s costing the state $60,000 a day to activate the Missouri National Guard to remove tree debris and make door-to-door visits to affected residents.

At Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri, destruction of dozens of boats and docks could exceed $100 million, Harold Ward, Camden County’s director of emergency management, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Back in Decatur, Louise Breazeale was feeling a bit nostalgic as she and her husband grappled without electricity, using a kerosene heater to warm the two-bedroom home. The two, both 70, have gotten used to just listening to their battery-powered radio, just like the old days.

“We go to bed early. Without lights or nothing, it’s kind of boring. But we get by,” she said. “We just thank the Lord for the heater.”