ST. LOUIS (AP) – Barbara Gill was one of the lucky ones.

While most of her neighbors in north St. Louis – and people across the city – had gone without electricity since Wednesday night, she had some to spare.

“This stranger came to my door with a bowl of ramen noodles and said, ‘I’m hungry. Can you heat this up for me?’ I didn’t think twice,” said Gill, 64. “This storm got everybody.”

As 570,000 area homes and businesses braced for a weekend without electricity, residents could at least be thankful that the week’s pattern of oppressive heat followed by destructive storms appeared to be ending.

On Friday, two days after severe storms knocked out power to about 500,000 customers, a new round of high winds and rain set power workers even further behind, erasing more than a day’s worth of restoration progress.

“It definitely represents some more challenges for us. The storm that blew through here left a lot of damage. It essentially has affected power for another 200,000 customers,” AmerenUE spokesman Tim Fox said. “But a couple of things are in our favor.”

Temperatures that neared triple digits Thursday cooled down on Friday and were expected to be in the 80s throughout the weekend. That lessened the threat of deadly heat for thousands of people without power for air conditioners.

President Bush on Friday approved Missouri’s request for an expedited disaster declaration, which mobilizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency and provides federal funding for debris removal and other emergency needs.

So far, three people have died as result of the storms and heat in the area in a week where sweltering conditions across much of the country contributed to at least 28 deaths.

The death toll in Oklahoma alone rose to seven. The state medical examiner’s office said the heat caused the deaths of four elderly people on Thursday, including one in Oklahoma City, where the high that day was 107.

Oklahoma City was so hot that a portion of Interstate 44 buckled, forcing the temporary closure of two lanes.

The power outage in St. Louis was the worst in city history, and AmerenUE said it will be Tuesday or Wednesday before electricity is completely restored.

More than 500 people spent Thursday night in two Red Cross shelters, and a third shelter opened Friday afternoon to take in hundreds more who couldn’t stay in their hot homes, said Jeff Rainford, chief of staff for Mayor Francis Slay.

Besides the overnight centers that offer three meals a day, municipal officials set up 52 cooling centers in St. Louis and St. Louis County. Virtually every hotel room in the region was booked for the weekend, mostly by local residents taking refuge from homes without power.

Many fast food restaurants and groceries in the neighborhoods surrounding shelters remained closed and without power. A company spokesman for Schnucks Markets Inc. said meat, milk and other perishables from eight powerless stores had to be thrown away. Some restaurants without power donated food before it went bad.

Debra Raymond, 50, works for a St. Louis bottled water company and said she passed out extra bottles of water she had on hand to people in her neighborhood. She and a dozen relatives and friends slept on the floor of her daughter’s air-conditioned home Thursday.

Gov. Matt Blunt sent Missouri National Guard troops to St. Louis on Thursday and declared the city in a state of emergency. Blunt and other Missouri lawmakers have asked President Bush for financial disaster assistance.

On Thursday and Friday the troops joined police, firefighters and volunteers in looking for people needing help in hot homes without power, especially the elderly. The troops will spend the weekend or longer in St. Louis helping with debris removal, officials said.

Tens of thousands of people also were without power in parts of southern Illinois that were pounded by storms for the second time in three days Friday.

The National Weather Service said winds estimated at up to 65 mph cut through Jefferson County, and that it had received reports of a tractor-trailer toppling and modular homes from a dealership being blown onto Interstate 57.

A Jefferson County sheriff’s dispatcher said officials were too busy to discuss damage reports.

Conoco-Phillips’ biggest refinery, northeast of St. Louis in Wood River, Ill., will remain idled into next week because of damage from Wednesday’s storm, officials with the Houston-based company said. It was unclear whether gas prices would be affected by the shutdown of the refinery, which can process 306,000 barrels of crude oil per day.

Weather in Missouri and Oklahoma was expected to be relatively cool over the weekend, a relief after days in which several people died in sweltering conditions. Heat-related deaths also have been reported this week in Illinois, Kansas, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee.



Associated Press writers Jim Salter in St. Louis and Shaun Schafer in Tulsa, Okla., contributed to this report.

AP-ES-07-21-06 2147EDT


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