ST. LOUIS (AP) – More than 100 dump trucks rolled through city streets Sunday collecting mangled trees and branches left behind by last week’s powerful storms that cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Tons of debris reached up to 25-feet high at one of three city drop-off points, parks officials said. Members of the Missouri Army National Guard are assisting with the cleanup.

“It’s hard to believe your eyes when you are looking at something this massive,” St. Louis Parks Director Gary Bass said.

About 290,000 homes and businesses here were still without power Sunday, down from the more than a half-million powerless last week .

A utility company spokeswoman said it could be at least four days before service is fully restored.

“The bottom line on giving the exact restoration time on a storm of this magnitude is difficult,” she said. It takes hours in some cases just to get power back to a few thousand people, she said.

The power company has been running television commercials asking for the city’s patience and some 4,000 utility workers from as far away as Arizona are restoring power around the clock.

Emergency rooms continue to be inundated with patients who rely on power for oxygen and other medical needs.

The Missouri Health Department has called on the help of all registered nurses and nursing assistants in the area. A crew of nurses arrived Saturday from Kansas City to work in St. Louis hospitals.

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.

Andrew Mullins, who was without power for three days, had landscaping on his mind Sunday. The 35-year-old west St. Louis resident shoveled three trash barrels full of free mulch that city workers had processed from the mountains of debris.

Parks officials said the piles of shattered limbs could stretch more than 30 football fields long. What’s not turned to mulch will be cut into free firewood or sent away.

“I call the storm the grand pruning,” Mullins said. “Every tree in the city was pruned.”

AP-ES-07-23-06 1933EDT

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