Saturday, July 17, 2004

Outages leave many bracing for warm weekend

By Ellen R. Stapleton
The Associated Press

LOUISVILLE - City officials are offering to help thousands of residents get through a summer weekend without power.

Louisville Metro Government opened daytime "cooling centers" in four government buildings on Friday. The centers will stay open through Sunday.

Thousands in the area are waiting to have their electricity restored after Tuesday's severe thunderstorms. Winds that reached up to 80 mph left damages that will keep Louisville Gas & Electric and the out-of-state workers it enlisted busy through Sunday night, spokesman Chris Hermann said Friday.

About 29,000 customers were still without power Friday, and crews hoped the number would drop below 6,000 by the end of the weekend, he said. That would be 95 percent of the peak 115,000 customers who were without electricity after this week's storm.

The cooling centers will offer fresh food, bottled water, toys, games, books, televisions and air conditioning, Mayor Jerry Abramson said. Eleven public pools will offer free admission to families during the weekend, he said. Public transportation to the sites will also be free.

"We want to make sure that as the weekend goes forward, people have a feeling that there is some place to go to relax and get into some air conditioning," Abramson said. "Because after a day or two of heat, it's no longer fun. As people come back from work and are available to sit in their homes all day today and Sunday, we want to make sure they have an opportunity to go somewhere with the family."

The National Weather Service forecast highs of 86 degrees Friday and low-80s the rest of the weekend.

Several other Kentucky utilities that had tens of thousands of power outages earlier in the week said they expected final repairs to be completed Friday night. That included about 200 Salt River Rural Electric customers and 900 Kentucky Utilities customers in Elizabethtown.

Abramson said 15 secondary roads in Louisville remained closed Friday and 22 traffic signals were still out. While no injuries were reported in the Louisville area immediately after the storm, Abramson said ambulances are now responding to chain saw accidents and health problems from running generators indoors.

Hotels and restaurants have been a refuge for those without electricity. Eric Hoagland, associate manager at the Cracker Barrel off Interstate 65, estimated sales have been up more than $1,000 daily, with higher numbers of carryout orders.

LG&E also set up a corporate account to feed its contractors there, he said.

"After working 13, 14 or 15 hours straight, they're coming in here really tired," he said.

But some people don't think they're working hard enough. In one neighborhood, a fallen tree blocking a street was spray-painted "last on the list."

Nearby resident William Disponett said the message appeared Friday morning. Standing beneath a tree that stayed intact, the 74-year-old said he's relying on a generator to power a window fan to keep him cool at night.

Officials have said the recent storm damage was the worst in Louisville since the April 1974 tornadoes.

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Outages leave many bracing for warm weekend