ST. LOUIS – Ameren Corp. expected electricity to be restored Wednesday to all customers in the St. Louis area, thousands of whom have been without power for a week.
But by Wednesday afternoon, 80,000 homes and businesses remained without power. A heat advisory was in effect for St. Louis, where temperatures were expected to be in the 90s for much of the rest of the week.
St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said the city will open eight hot meal sites to serve residents who still lack power. The Salvation Army will help run the centers and expects to serve about 20,000 meals daily. Slay said the centers will help residents whose food spoiled more than a week ago.
Two massive storms last week knocked out power to nearly 600,000 homes and businesses. The violent weather and resulting blackouts were blamed for six deaths — the most recent on Wednesday, when an East St. Louis man was killed when a fire broke out as he tried to siphon gasoline from a power generator.
The East St. Louis Fire Chief William Fennoy said James Flemming, 41, was consumed by flames at his cousin's home of about 12:30 this morning, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Fennoy said the area where the fire occurred had been without power since last week.
About 4,000 Ameren employees and private contractors have been working 16-hour shifts since the first storm hit July 19, according to the company.
Miltina Burnett, of Wellston, was elated when her electricity came back on Tuesday afternoon.
"I am going to take a cool shower, turn on the air conditioning and watch some TV," Burnett said. She described sleeping in an air-conditioned rental car and eating ready-made sandwiches from the grocery store since losing power.
The Ameren employee who died was identified as Robert Tackett, 56, of St. Charles, who had worked for the utility for 13 years.
"This tragedy deeply touches each and every person associated with our company and brings home the great importance of operating safely around electricity — not only to our employees but also to our customers," Ameren chief executive officer Gary Rainwater said in a statement.
The first of the storms hit July 19, packing winds that reached 80 mph, knocking out power to nearly 600,000 Ameren customers. A second storm Friday knocked out power to 200,000 customers, including many whose power had just been restored.
Ameren officials have said the company responded within 15 minutes after the storm hit. The company said that even an hour before the storm's arrival, there was no warning.
But some people have been frustrated by Ameren's response.
The Rev. Al Sharpton led a protest Tuesday outside Ameren's headquarters, saying the company had not adequately serving poor and working class residents in the city. He also called for a 10 percent reduction in Ameren rates to help the community recover.