|posted 10:04 a-m, 12/21/08 An army of 1,480 Ameren Illinois Utilities field personnel are working 16-hour shifts in near zero temperatures to get the lights back on for thousands who lost service when strong winds raced across Central Illinois Saturday night and Sunday morning.
The strong winds - 20 to 30 mph with higher gusts - damaged ice-coated power lines and utility poles, and caused icy tree limbs to fall into power lines. Electrical service outages, which had peaked at about 45,000 on Friday, had been reduced to about 5,000 customers Saturday evening. However, the exceptionally strong winds have left about 14,100 customers without power.
Depending on weather conditions, the Ameren Illinois Utilities are hopeful most customers will have service restored by Sunday evening. However, scattered outages are expected to persist until Monday. Ameren Illinois Utilities personnel will continue to work 16-hour shifts.
Ameren Illinois Utilities officials stress that high wind conditions are expected to continue throughout the day on Sunday. These winds may cause additional damage, resulting in additional electric service outages.
One of the most serious problems facing the Ameren Illinois Utilities crews is a phenomenon known as galloping conductors. This phenomenon occurs when strong winds blow across ice-coated power lines, causing them swing violently. Galloping conductors can damage power lines, insulators and utilities, resulting in electric service outages.
"We extend our thanks to city, county and state officials and to the hotels, restaurants, service stations and others who are working with us as we restore service to our customers," said Bill Prebil, Ameren Illinois vice president of Regional Operations.
"The safety of our customers and our coworkers is of paramount concern as we continue to work until all of our customers have their lights back on. We encourage people to check on their neighbors, especially the elderly and those with special needs, to make certain they are safe and warm," Prebil said.
The Ameren Illinois Utilities are again urging customers to exercise extreme caution when using portable generators. There has been at least one case in which the necessary generator safety steps were not followed, which resulted in electricity being feed back into Ameren Illinois Utilities power lines that had been deenergized. Fortunately, there were no injuries or deaths.
Customers planning to use a portable generator must first open the main breaker or remove the main fuses before connecting the generator to the electrical systems. Failure to do this could seriously injure utility crews working on outside power lines, and/or it could cause damage to a neighbor's property or the customer's own equipment. Customers should never use a portable generator indoors, including in a home, garage, basement, shed or partially-enclosed area - even with ventilation because of the threat of deadly carbon monoxide poisoning.
The service restoration effort is being directed by the Ameren Illinois Emergency Operations Center in Decatur.
The Ameren Illinois Utilities also have placed Storm Trailers to Peoria, Sunnyland and Chenoa. The Storm Trailers are mobile storerooms, stocked with the material field crews need to get the lights back on. The trailers can be moved to central staging sites to provide essential materials areas with the greatest damage.