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St. Louis Crippled by Widespread Blackouts

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St. Louis Crippled by Widespread Blackouts

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St. Louis Crippled by Widespread Blackouts

St. Louis Crippled by Widespread Blackouts

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Nearly a half-million residents in the St. Louis area are in the dark after a fierce thunderstorm hit the region last night. Not only are the residents without power, but they're also forced to deal with stifling heat and humidity. Robert Siegel talks with St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel.

Large parts of St. Louis are without power today after a powerful storm hit the region last night.

BLOCK: Several buildings collapsed, the mass transit system was shut down temporarily and a section of roof was ripped off the airport and thrown onto an interstate. Today, the temperature in St. Louis soared to near 100 degrees, so the focus is on helping the hundreds of thousands still without power and without air conditioning.

SIEGEL: Joining us from St. Louis is Mayor Francis Slay and first of all, Mayor Slay, you've called for assistance.

Mr. FRANCIS SLAY (Mayor, St. Louis, Missouri): Yes, I've asked Governor Matt Blunt to declare a state of emergency in the city of St. Louis and to bring in 250 Guardsmen to help us with setting up cooling sites, to help us evacuating those individuals who are particularly at risk from homes without power, to pick up debris and also to help us with transportation.

SIEGEL: How devastating was this storm?

Mr. SLAY: This is the worst storm that I can recall in my lifetime. In fact, Ameren UE, our power source here in St. Louis, tells us that this is by far the largest power outage in St. Louis history. So, there's a lot of power outage. There's a lot of trees down. We've had some collapsed buildings. We've had all kinds of damage to properties.

What we're mostly concerned about is that because of the extent of the power outages and the extreme heat we expect today - that the heat index to reach 120 degrees - that there'll be a whole lot of people, particularly elderly and those with medical conditions, who'll be at risk of, you know, severe heat related problems or even death.

SIEGEL: So, do you have people out going house-to-house to try to find people?

Mr. SLAY: Yes we do. We're working with the United Way and the Salvation Army. We also have our police department, our fire department going out in neighborhoods, identifying people and I can tell you all the things that they're doing there. We have our building inspectors as well as our neighborhood stabilization officers trying to identify individuals.

I've been out telling people to get to some place cool. So we've got a tremendous effort out there, not only to clean up the debris and assess the damage, but I think most importantly to try to address the severe heat situation and the power outage.

SIEGEL: And hospitals, all are functioning and they all have power?

Mr. SLAY: Yes. The hospitals are all functioning. They have back-up service that kicked in. We did evacuate, last count, three nursing homes in the city of St. Louis that didn't have power, you know, because they elderly that, special conditions. We brought them to cooling centers. And some we actually had transported to hospitals.

SIEGEL: When you say cooling centers, a cooling center is simply, it's a shelter where there is air conditioning?

Mr. SLAY: It's a shelter with air conditioning. We have them set up with cots so people can lie down. We have, and Anheuser-Busch is donating 100,000 cans of water. We'll have food delivered and beverages, so that people not only feel comfortable, but they don't have to worry about going back home in the heat in the evening.

Because we expect that even though the heat may drop over the next couple of days, that after several days of sustained heat that it will remain like an oven inside and still be a health risk for seniors and those with medical conditions.

SIEGEL: But do all of the cooling centers have power now or are some of them still without power?

Mr. SLAY: There are some cooling centers that are without power. We do have cooling centers that we have every summer in the city of St. Louis because of the heat. Some of those are out, but we do have 16 fully operational cooling centers open and taking people in the city of St. Louis right now.

SIEGEL: And as you've said, the summer in St. Louis can be brutal under any circumstances.

Mr. SLAY: Yeah, summer is brutal under any circumstance, but when the power goes out, it creates a much bigger issue and a challenge and that's what's happened here.

SIEGEL: Well, Mayor Slay, thank you very much for talking to us. And good luck with all that.

Mr. SLAY: Oh, thank you so much. My pleasure.

SIEGEL: That's Francis Slay, the mayor of St. Louis.

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