South county returning to normal after devastating storms

Staff Report

Powerful thunderstorms pummeled the St. Louis area twice last week, and their effects continued to be felt as the Call went to press Monday.

Severe thunderstorms with winds exceeding 90 mph ripped through the area the evening of July 19 and left more than 500,000 AmerenUE customers without power in what officials have termed the worst storm in the utility company’s history.

Those without power were left to face the sweltering summer weather with heat indices soaring above 110 degrees.

A second set of roaring thunderstorms tore through the area early Friday afternoon, cutting another swath of wind damage from East Central Missouri to Central Illinois.

Friday’s powerful storms complicated cleanup efforts from the previous storm and resulted in additional power outages.

Some residents whose power recently had been restored found themselves without electricity.

As the Call went to press Monday afternoon, more than 217,000 AmerenUE customers were still without power.

In a full-page advertisement published in a daily newspaper, Gary L. Rainwater, Ameren Corp. chairman, president and CEO, wrote, “Thunderstorms with winds exceeding 90 mph hit the St. Louis Met-ropolitan Area with a vengeance on July 19. The damage to homes, businesses and Ameren’s energy delivery system was the worst our company has ever experienced in its 100-plus years of service to this area. More than 400 higher voltage feeder lines went out. Hundreds of downed lines and broken poles littered roads and highways. The storm caused service disruptions that affected more than 500,000 customers in the Ameren service area on both sides of the river.

“On the first day of the restoration effort, Ameren deployed more than 1,800 employees and contractors to restore customers. Those dedicated workers came not only from Missouri and across Illinois, but from Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.”

While hundreds of AmerenUE employees were put to the test in the wake of last week’s storms, so were members of the Mehlville Fire Protection District, according to Assistant Chief Steve Mossotti.

Right after the July 19 storm, Mossotti said, “Of course, all the crews ran their tails off all night on alarms. I’m not sure what the end total for fire alarms (was). It was like 300 or 400 calls from that session … The next morning, we decided we needed to look at how we were going to deal with everything that was going on … because of all the houses without electricity and the heat problems.”

The first thing, he said, was to assess “our own assets. Where were we with our own houses? How many of our houses were out of power on generators? Were those generators working? What was the state of fuel supplies, our personnel levels, what we had? Once we determined where we were, we saw that we needed to get fuel. We needed to top off our tanks. Our supplier from Sieveking was really good, came out that day and topped off … all our fuel supplies, all our generators,” he said, noting at that time, two of the district’s firehouses — 6 and 7 — were using generators for power.

“Once we determined all of our resources were good and ready to go, we sent them out on the street to go around the neighborhoods and do some quick assessments of where can you get through? Where can’t you get through? We knew coming in from the night before there was a tree across Green Park (Road) and we had several locations we knew already that were blocked. We sent the trucks back out there to ascertain if they could still get through or not. If they couldn’t, take their chain saw, start cutting trees where they could and start opening them up,” the assistant chief said.

“The other area we identified as our next big issue was the nursing homes — all the nursing facilities. We made phone contact with them …,” he said, noting that normal district operations were shut down at this point, such as the inspection office, to focus on … “Everybody was working together and were given tasks. The first one was to get ahold of the nursing facilities.”

The nursing facilities were called to determine whether they had power, generators, if they had cooling areas within the facilities and if they needed anything.

“What we also wanted to find out is if you have generators, what exactly do they supply, getting all the data from them, and tracking it. Just documenting what they had and how many patients. How many people do you have in your facility right now? In case we do have a problem and we have to move them, that we know now we’ve got 125 people to move out of here,” Mossotti said.

Among the duties performed by Mehlville firefighters and paramedics in the wake of the July 19 storm were:

• Established a command post at the fire district’s administrative offices.

• Fire and EMS units went through neighborhoods and checked on residences.

• Set up staff vehicles with drivers to pick up individuals who needed transportation to cooling areas.

• Set up a task force of ambulances to transport patients from the Veterans Administration hospital.

• Established a cooling center at the fire district’s Training Center.

• Evacuated an assisted living center and transported more than 60 people to Faith Lutheran Church, a cooling center.

Mossotti said the fire district partnered with Faith Lutheran Church. The district was able to obtain 100 Army cots and transported them to the church.

“We decided it did not make sense for us to try to overnight people here when Faith was going to do it,” he explained. “So what we decided to do was we joined with them and our operations and we took the cots down there because they didn’t have cots either. So we took the cots down to them with the idea of then supporting them for the overnight. Then later in the day, we transported our folks that were here (at the fire district’s cooling center) down to Faith to finish the night.

“Then they subsequently wanted to come back the next morning and stay with us, and they’ve been here, which is fine,” Mossotti said late Friday afternoon.

In the aftermath of the storms, many lessons were learned that will help the district be better prepared for the next crisis, he said, adding that Faith Lutheran’s support was exceptional.

“I hope this becomes actually a catalyst for a church-based system in the area … and I hope the other churches join into this and we can get more locations in our area that will provide the same things. It’s great for us to know that if I’ve got 50 people we got to move, I’ve got a facility that can take them,” Mossotti said.