ST. LOUIS – Tawana Jean Cooper and her family escaped their frigid suburban home for the warmth of an urban Red Cross center after roads were cleared of ice, downed power lines and broken tree limbs left by a devastating Midwest ice and snowstorm.
Joining her were three young grandchildren. "They know this is not home. They know this is a disaster," Cooper said Sunday as she cradled her sleeping 5-month-old granddaughter in her arms.
Four more deaths in Missouri pushed the death toll to 19 on Sunday as hundreds of thousands waited another day for electricity to be restored. Missouri National Guardsmen knocked on doors to make sure people were safe.
Temperatures across much of the region were predicted to hover in the teens and 20s on Monday while wind chills should make it feel even colder, slowing down cleanup efforts, according to the National Weather Service.
On Monday, Missouri and Illinois residents who have toughed it out for five days without power learned they will have to keep waiting. An official with St. Louis-based Ameren Corp. said Monday he expects it will be "several more days" before the utility can fully restore power. Nearly 300,000 customers in the two states were still in the dark Monday.
"We've had some ice storms before. This one puts them to shame," said Ron Zdellar, vice president of energy for subsidiary AmerenUE, who has worked for the company for 35 years.
Temporary help has come from 14 states, but even as crews put in 16-hour days, cold temperatures, icy poles, downed lines and brittle trees were making the restoration process a difficult one following Thursday night's ice storm.
The storm spread ice and deep snow from Texas to Michigan and then blew through the Northeast late Friday and early Saturday. Thousands of travelers were stranded by canceled flights, highways clogged by abandoned vehicles and stalled trains.
The storm disrupted Amtrak train service between Chicago and St. Louis, but most of those lines were expected to be up and running on Monday, the company said in a release.
At the peak of the outages Friday, 510,000 Ameren Corp. customers had no electricity in a roughly 300-mile swath from Jackson, Mo., northeast to Pontiac, Ill., paralleling the track of the storm.
Trees throughout the region were glazed with a thick coat of ice that reflected the sunlight and also snapped tree limbs, bringing power lines down with them.
"It's slow," said repairman Bernie Kutz, after completing a job in south St. Louis. "The tools are freezing somewhat, and nothing wants to work right."
The latest deaths were two men, ages 37 and 35, who died after they tried to burn coal in a cooking wok to stay warm. Fire officials found deadly levels of carbon monoxide in their home. A 56-year-old man may have suffered hypothermia, and an 81-year-old man was found dead at the bottom of his home's stairs.
"This is not over. As long as the power is still out, there are still people at risk," St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay said.
The bitter temperatures and continued lack of power didn't stop some 230 First Baptist Church congregants in Belleville, Ill., from worshipping in a nearby restaurant that lent them the space.
"A lot of people associate a church with a building, but times like this make it clear it's the people," associate pastor Richard Weaver said after a 90-minute service that was punctuated by the smell of fresh fried chicken. "Whether you meet in a church or under a tree it's not important as long as you have the right spirit and purpose."
In East St. Louis, Ill., about 500 members of the Illinois National Guard knocked on 2,000 doors to check on residents who spent their third day without power.
Guardsmen have already canvassed 750 miles of highway searching for stranded vehicles. They found 35, including semitrailers and one wayward snowplow, said Lt. Col. Tim Franklin. All were empty.
In Peoria, Ill., fire officials urged homeowners to check their roofs after a nursing home ceiling collapsed, injuring four residents. Authorities temporarily closed a Wal-Mart as a precaution Saturday night because of heavy ice and snow on its roof.
At his Ridge Road Tree Farm just south of Urbana, Ill., Dave Shoemaker found Sunday's demand for his Christmas trees back to normal, even though the firs still hadn't thawed. A day earlier, the trees were coated with so much ice they glistened like they'd been sprayed with clear acrylic.
"The cold and the snow scared away a few," Shoemaker said.