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Heat lifts in St. Louis, but power is still scarce

Cleanup starts after big storm

ST. LOUIS -- Temperatures were starting to drop and the skies were clear, but Kim Beck could only laugh when asked yesterday whether things were slowing down at the Salvation Army shelter she manages in suburban St. Louis.

``Far from it," Beck said. ``We had 95 people spend the night last night. It may not be hot, but they don't have power. Here they get the creature comforts -- they can eat, they can watch TV, some are even doing their laundry."

The shelter was just one spot where the city's weather-battered citizens found a haven as the region began recovering from a week that brought 100-degree heat and, on Wednesday , one of the worst storms ever to hit the area, followed by another big thunderstorm Friday.

At least 28 deaths have been blamed on the heat wave that scorched much of the nation last week, including three in Missouri.

In St. Louis, weekend forecasts called for highs in the 80s with little humidity. Still, it was expected to be early next week before power was restored, and hundreds of businesses remained closed.

By midday yesterday, about 410,000 houses and businesses still lacked electricity. Ameren Corp. was being helped by utility workers borrowed from other companies, working around the clock to get the lights back on. All told, about 3,000 workers were fanning throughout the region.

Emergency rooms were swamped with those who rely on power for medical needs.

Hundreds remained in shelters set up by the American Red Cross, while others were still at some of the dozens of ``cooling centers" set up around the region. At Beck's Salvation Army Family Haven, many overnight guests came directly from hospitals. Some were in wheelchairs, and a few were Alzheimer's patients.

``It's sad when you're still not feeling your best and you have to go to an emergency shelter," Beck said.

The weather has been blamed for four St. Louis-area deaths. Elderly people in St. Louis and De Soto died in houses where the air conditioners lost power; an East St. Louis man died after coming in contact with a downed power line; and a 42-year-old dump truck driver from High Ridge died when wind blew a steel box onto him.

Friday's storm hit many areas that were spared by the bigger one on Wednesday. On the Illinois side of the Mississippi River, thousands were without power, and Governor Rod Blagojevich declared several counties state disaster areas.

``We're pretty confident there were some tornadoes over there," National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Sieveking said.

In Arkansas, a boy was injured when winds blew over a travel trailer, trapping him underneath, Baxter County Sheriff John Montgomery said. Chainsaws were used to cut him free.

President Bush on Friday approved Missouri's request for an expedited disaster declaration, which mobilizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and which provides federal funding for debris removal and other emergency needs.

Members of the Missouri National Guard were also helping with cleanup.

Boeing Co. had to shut down its defense plant Friday after the lights went out, sending 4,000 workers home. Officials were not sure when the power would be restored there.

As Missouri sweltered, it had company. The temperature hit 118 degrees Friday in Phoenix, making it the hottest day since 1995 and one of the 11 hottest since 1895, when temperature records were first kept in the city.

Oklahoma City was so hot Friday that a portion of Interstate 44 buckled, forcing the temporary closure of two lanes. Oklahoma's death toll rose to seven as the state medical examiner's office said heat caused the deaths of four elderly people on Thursday.

Heat-related deaths have been reported in Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee. In Southern California, a wildfire sparked by lightning burned about a mile from houses but posed no immediate danger, officials said.

The fire was among a half-dozen started by lightning Thursday in wilderness areas of inland Southern California, where naturally occurring wildfires have burned vast areas this month. In the Idaho Rockies, crews battled steep terrain as flames raced through tinder-dry timber stands.

In Utah, winds stretched a wildfire to more than 1,000 acres along the Colorado line.

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