BELLEVILLE, Ill. – Having burned through $300 on hotels and restaurants since her house was plunged into darkness by a winter storm, Ann Hill was on the verge of blowing her own fuse.
"I'm broke and fed up," Hill said Wednesday at a church shelter in the central Illinois city of Decatur, among the communities that suffered most from the storm. "I've had it. Enough is enough."
"We definitely understand their frustration; we share their frustration," said Ameren spokeswoman Erica Abbett. "We appreciate our customers' patience."
The storm plowed through the Midwest late last week, dropping ice and snow before bringing wind and thunderstorms to the Northeast. At least 18 deaths have been blamed on the storm in Illinois and Missouri.
Brent Stubblefield was among a few dozen workers from Tennessee-based Service Electric Co. who made a nine-hour drive to the St. Louis area to help restore power.
With Stubblefield and his co-workers bundled against temperatures in the 30s, working to restore power in Belleville, a woman came up and said they were in her prayers. Others have offered them coffee.
"Everybody here has been polite," said Stubblefield, a 27-year-old journeyman lineman. "Just as nice as can be."
The Illinois Commerce Commission announced Wednesday that it had asked staff to develop recommendations for an investigation into Ameren's preparedness and response to the storm. The plan is to be reviewed at the next public meetings of the state's utility regulator, scheduled for Dec. 19-20.
"Without prejudging the company's response, we think it's fair to examine the situation and ask the hard questions for the public we serve," commissioner Kevin Wright said in an agency release.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich has declared 49 Illinois counties state disaster areas, helping the Illinois Emergency Management Agency coordinate resources to support local communities with storm recovery efforts.
In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt is hopeful of getting a presidential declaration of disaster based on damage reported in all 114 counties, said Blunt spokesman Brian Hauswirth. That would free up funds for reimbursement.
It's costing the state $60,000 a day to activate the Missouri National Guard to remove tree debris and make door-to-door visits to affected residents.
At Lake of the Ozarks in southern Missouri, destruction of dozens of boats and docks could exceed $100 million, Harold Ward, Camden County's director of emergency management, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Back in Decatur, Louise Breazeale was feeling a bit nostalgic as she and her husband grappled without electricity, using a kerosene heater to warm the two-bedroom home. The two, both 70, have gotten used to just listening to their battery-powered radio, just like the old days.
"We go to bed early. Without lights or nothing, it's kind of boring. But we get by," she said. "We just thank the Lord for the heater."