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Some in St. Louis region still without power five days after storm

A large tree lies across a street in University City.
Rod Milam
St. Louis Public Radio
Winds exceeding 55 mph toppled trees during a storm Saturday. Residents in University City and other parts of the region have been without power for days.

Ameren Missouri crews are still working to restore electricity to many residents in the St. Louis region who remain without power nearly a week after Saturday’s powerful storms.

According to Ameren, 1,500 customers in the region were without electricity late Thursday afternoon. That’s down from more than 100,000 who lost power in storms last weekend.

Most of the customers still without power are in north St. Louis and St. Louis County.

The company continues to work on restoring service, but the storm blew over many utility poles and downed power lines, said Tommie Bugett, who supervises repairs in the St. Louis region.

The lines are tangled in the debris, and fixing them takes a lot of time, said Bugett.

“[We have] damaged transformers, damaged feeders at our substations, broken poles, broken down wires, broken cross arms that are attached to the poles, there's a multitude of repairs that we do have to make to get our customers back on,” he said. “One broken pole can take several hours to replace. It's a very complex process.”

Ameren first focuses on hospitals, nursing homes and other “critical” energy consumers before moving to fix outages affecting homes, Bugett said. Workers are working in residential areas.

The National Weather Service in St. Louis reported the storm produced gusts of wind that exceeded 55 mph.

In University City, residents are frustrated, city Communications Manager Mary Goodman said.

“The trees are massive, and they’re just tangled with these lines, the poles themselves are broken,” she said. “It takes crazy strong winds to take 200-year-old oak trees down, and it takes four to six hours to repair some of the poles.”

University City firefighters remain on standby to help any residents who are left without power, but so far the city hasn’t received any calls for help from people without air conditioning or other services, she said.

The region’s aging utility grid is becoming more prone to failure during increasingly severe weather, said Gentry Trotter, the founder of Cool Down St. Louis, a nonprofit that helps people pay utility bills.

“These storms … are becoming so powerful that the typical anything just won't hold up,” he said. “Ameren has a lot of old infrastructures throughout the metropolitan area, and they have some strong infrastructure, but nothing as strong as Mother Nature."

It’s important to convince people that staying inside a house without power during 95-degree weather isn’t safe, Trotter said.

“We have to talk a lot of grannies in two and uncles and aunts into going to live with a loved one,” he said. “If they don’t want to go to a cooling center, you have to find some places to go.”

He also urged people to check on their elderly neighbors and family members in areas where power outages continue.

Sarah Fentem is the health reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.