Midwest itching for electricity in Ike's aftermath

Wednesday, September 17th 2008, 4:23 pm
By: News 9


Associated Press Writer

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Officials urged patience Wednesday on the part of Midwesterners waiting for power to be restored as crews worked feverishly to clean up the soggy mess left by the deadly remnants of Hurricane Ike over the weekend.

Fallen trees still blocked roads outside Cincinnati, where Clermont County resident Ted Metcalfe said a five-minute drive to a shopping area had turned into a 20-minute obstacle course.

"Getting there was like driving through a war zone," he said.

Ohio utilities reported about 870,000 homes and businesses still without power, down from 2.6 million after the storm Sunday. More than 400,000 customers still lacked power Wednesday in Kentucky, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Utilities hope to restore power for most people by Thursday, but some could be in the dark until the weekend.

Power restoration has been delayed because damage from the hurricane-force winds was unprecedented for much of the region and required help from crews in other states, utilities said. In some cases, Ohio-based crews were recalled from Southern states after being sent to help with Ike's aftermath along the Gulf Coast.

In the meantime, officials asked residents to avoid downed power lines, throw out spoiled food and use battery-powered lights instead of candles to decrease the risk of illness and injury.

"It's more of a push to make sure people are being patient and not becoming frustrated and doing something foolish," said Bill Wharton, a spokesman for the Montgomery County health agency in Dayton.

Hospitals in the Dayton area treated patients who had fallen from roofs, strained muscles and suffered chain saw injuries while cleaning up, he said. Health officials also were inspecting reopened restaurants and grocery stores.

Hurricane Ike and its remnants are blamed for more than 50 deaths in 11 states from the Gulf Coast to Michigan. Ohio alone reported at least six deaths.

In Cincinnati's Mount Lookout neighborhood, piles of tree limbs lined the curbs, and morning commuters came to sudden stops at traffic lights that haven't worked in days.

Long lines at supermarkets, hardware stores and gas stations had receded, but stores were running short on emergency supplies. Some gas stations that had fuel during the power failure were running out as others got power and reopened.

Flood warnings remained in effect across the region. In parts of Missouri, several communities where flood crests were now expected to be below projections breathed easier. Significant flooding happened nevertheless along parts of the Missouri, Mississippi and other rivers.

"We've got a lot of high water on a lot of rivers, and it's causing backup on the tributaries and the creeks," said Susie Stonner, spokeswoman for the Missouri State Emergency Management Agency.

Near Chicago, firefighters in Gary, Ind., used boats to rescue some residents after rising water surrounded their homes. Deputy Police Chief Bonearl Black didn't have a count of evacuees but said the area was "heavily populated."

Health officials in northwestern Indiana's Lake and Porter counties provided free tetanus shots as a precaution, said Eric Kurtz of the Porter County Health Department.

"When there's this kind of flooding event, there are all kinds of hazards," Kurtz said.

Suburban Cincinnati resident Bill Cunningham, powering up his laptop computer at a Panera Bread cafe fortunate enough to have electricity, said he expected his power back Saturday. Until then, he's eating takeout and looking forward to a cheaper power bill this month.

"Worse things could happen," he said. "We could be in Houston."


Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Doug Whiteman in Columbus, Ohio; Jim Salter in St. Louis; David Mercer in Champaign, Ill.; Bruce Schreiner in Louisville, Ky.; and Ramesh Santanam in Saxonburg, Pa.

(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)