24,000 still without power in Missouri; infrastructure 'destroyed'

ST. LOUIS | For those who wonder why it's taking so long to restore power to southern Missouri, the man who assembles repair crews has three words.

“There's nothing left,” Mike Conyers, state coordinator for mutual aid, said Tuesday.

As the fallout of a devastating ice storm enters its second week, about 24,000 homes and businesses in southern Missouri still were without power Tuesday night.

The numbers included 1,370 customers of AmerenUE, 16,500 who belong to rural cooperatives, and 6,200 served by municipal utilities.

Conyers, who also trains electrical linemen for the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance, said last week's ice storm “totally destroyed” the infrastructure that delivers electricity.

“The whole infrastructure has to be brought up,” he said. “It's all broken laying on the ground. That ice totally destroyed it. I've got 40 crews on the ground trying to put it back together.”

Worse yet, Conyers learned Tuesday that crews from an out-of-state power association may not arrive to rebuild southern Missouri's crumpled transmission lines for another week, and that it could take 45 days to rebuild them.

But municipal utilities aren't standing by idly until then. Their crews are re-establishing electric poles, attaching lines to houses, and getting things ready to go.

Still, there's another problem: “There aren't enough electricians to go around,” Conyers said. “We're waiting on electricians.”

Conyers predicted it would be a long time before power is restored to everyone.

The Missouri National Guard was delivering food, water and blankets, and going door-to-door making wellness checks in hard-hit New Madrid County.

It also dispatched help for some elderly people who were running low on oxygen.

In Sikeston, the Guard arranged help for a 70-year-old man who refused to leave his home despite 40-degree temperatures inside. Between emergency personnel and neighbors, the man was checked every hour.

National Guard specialist Daniel Cummings, 34, of Poplar Bluff, said he just returned from duty in rural Ripley County, where he encountered residents who hadn't eaten in three days, and who were left to drink melted snow water.

The Guard arranged to transport residents to shelters, but many elderly people insisted on staying home, afraid to leave their farm animals and pets behind.

“Some didn't want to go,” Cummings said, “so we checked on them daily.”

But in other ways, life was starting to return to normal. In many stricken counties, shelter operations were winding down and schools were planning to reopen later in the week.

The Humane Society of Missouri said it still needs donations of dry dog food, dry and canned cat food, blankets, towels, newspaper or shredded paper, and money to aid its operations in Sikeston, Portageville, Poplar Bluff and Kennett, and in Scott, New Madrid, Butler and Dunklin counties.

Donations of items may be left at the Humane Society's St. Louis headquarters, just outside the adoption center.