July 21, 2006 in Nation/World

Guard sent in after blackout in St. Louis heat

Cheryl Wittenauer Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Devon Paluczak, 11, and his sister Siera, 9, rush ice to their neighbors Thursday outside St. Louis, where half a million homes and businesses faced power outages amid high temperatures.
(Full-size photo)

ST. LOUIS – The governor sent in the National Guard to evacuate people from their sweltering homes Thursday after storms knocked out power to more than half a million St. Louis-area households and businesses in the middle of a deadly heat wave.

With forecasters expecting another day of 100-degree heat, utility crews raced to restore electricity, and Gov. Matt Blunt declared a state of emergency, granting the mayor’s request to send in nearly 300 troops to take people to air-conditioned public buildings and to clear debris.

“We can’t overemphasize the danger of this heat,” Mayor Francis Slay said. “The longer the heat goes on and the power is out, the riskier it is.”

The heat has contributed to at least 20 deaths across the country in the last week.

The day’s high in St. Louis was 97 degrees, but the humidity made it feel like 111. The region could get some relief today, when the high was expected to drop to the mid-80s.

The storms tore through the city a day earlier, ripping off a section of airport roof and dumping it on a highway. Windows were blown out of a hotel restaurant and a press box at baseball’s Busch Stadium. At least three buildings collapsed, and more than 30 people were injured.

By Thursday evening, power had been restored to 160,000 customers, but new reports of outages kept coming in.

St. Louis-based AmerenUE, the utility serving Missouri and Illinois, said it would restore power to hospitals, nursing homes, water-treatment plants and other “critical facilities” first.

The death toll from the heat wave that has gripped much of the country for the past week rose to at least 20 people in seven states. Four more people died in the Chicago area, bringing the total number there to seven, officials said. Two have died in the Philadelphia area, two in Oklahoma City, two in Arkansas, two in Indiana and one each in South Dakota and Tennessee.

In St. Louis, officials reported the death of a 93-year-old woman who had air conditioning but no power. In Indiana, a 25-year-old woman taking medications that might have affected her body’s ability to stay cool died from heat exposure when temperatures inside her apartment reached 100 degrees, officials said Thursday.

Also Thursday, authorities in Kansas confirmed that two men in their 60s died from the heat. One was homeless and died in a Witchita park. The other did not have air conditioning.

In Wisconsin, a 6-year-old girl was killed Thursday when storms knocked part of a tree onto a tent at a park.

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