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WEATHER

St. Louis struggles without power

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ST. LOUIS, Missouri (CNN) -- Almost 300,000 electric customers in the St. Louis, Missouri, area remained in the dark Sunday night, four days after the first of two severe thunderstorms battered the region amid a lingering heat wave, a utility spokesman said.

Missouri National Guard troops helped clear storm debris from neighborhoods, while Red Cross and United Way volunteers ran cooling stations for people without air conditioning in the summer heat. Mike Cleary, a spokesman for the electric utility AmerenUE, said repair crews don't expect to have all service restored until Wednesday.

"The storm that hit Wednesday night was the worst storm in our company's history," Cleary said. "And when you consider that the company was formed in 1902, that's a long time."

The outages began Wednesday, when severe thunderstorms and high winds swept through the area. The storm blew down trees and billboards, ripped facades off buildings and littered downtown streets with broken glass.

The number of customers affected by the power outages topped 1.1 million on Friday, when a second wave of storms hit. That number had dropped to about 298,000 by Sunday afternoon, Cleary said.

"We had lots of damage in lots of different locations that we all have to go to individually and make lots of repairs," he said.

Downtown St. Louis and northern suburbs such as Florissant and Jennings were among the hardest-hit areas, Cleary said. About 77,000 of the remaining customers without power were in communities across the river in Illinois, said Maggie Carson, a spokeswoman for the state emergency management agency.

Damage stretched from East St. Louis to Mount Vernon, about 60 miles east of the Gateway Arch, she said. Meanwhile, the Illinois Health Department warned residents to be careful when clearing out refrigerators full of food that was likely to have spoiled.

"If you find the food is spoiled, make sure it's wrapped and packaged," she said. "We don't want this to be a feeding ground for rodents. These people have certainly suffered enough."

Temperatures that had spiked above 100 degrees last week eased over the weekend, with highs Sunday in the upper 80s. The mercury was expected to climb back into the 90s this week.

Three deaths in Missouri have been attributed to the storms and heat, said Paddy Buratto, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

About 300 Missouri National Guard troops were dispatched to St. Louis, where they have been helping firefighters check on the welfare of ill or elderly residents and assisting in debris removal, said Capt. Tammy Spicer, a National Guard spokeswoman.

Red Cross spokeswoman Jessica Willingham said about 750 people were staying in Red Cross shelters, and the relief agency was expected to deliver about 50,000 meals to people remaining in homes without power by Monday.

"We continue to keep our shelters open until people have their power back, so people will be safe," she said.

Three deaths in Missouri have been attributed to the storms and heat, said Paddy Buratto, a spokeswoman for the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

President Bush issued an emergency declaration for six Missouri counties Friday, authorizing FEMA to assist relief work and help with cleanup, Buratto said. She said the agency has helped provide nurses to area hospitals and a FEMA distribution specialist has helped local authorities distribute food and water.

High temperatures also contributed to power losses in New York and Los Angeles, where 30,000 Department of Water and Power customers saw outages Sunday. A spokeswoman said the outages could last "for an extended time" and urged residents to conserve power.

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said electric service was back on for half the approximately 100,000 Queens residents who have been without power since Monday.

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