We got a very small taste of what the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast went through on Wednesday night when heavy winds and a severe thunder storm rampaged through the heart of St. Louis at night.
I do not normally watch the weather, and I did not on that day, but as I was driving down the industrial Hall Street towards downtown St. Louis , I noticed the sky across the Mississippi River in Illinois had blackened and minute by minute the winds were getting heavier. By the time I got to North Broadway dust was flying through the air, my big Crown Vic was swerving, tree limbs were flying through the street, construction cones were hitting cars, and to make things worse as I pulled up to Lacledes Landing it appeared that materials from a construction site (possibly from the new extension of the President Casino) were flying through the air and doing damage to vehicles.
My job was to go to the Embassy Suites Hotel and pick up an employee and take her home to a street directly behind St. Louis University Hospital on Grand. She instructed me to drive down the Riverfront (Lenora K. Sullivan Dr.) and take it to Chouteau to Grand. Driving down the Riverfront all I could think about is that I wished I still kept a camera in my cab because the river looked like an ocean as it violently beat against the banks and its currents were growing more and more rapid. A steady stream of people were filing out of the casino and the tour boat (and good for them because a building would later collapse on the Eads Bridge and the Casino Queen, on the other side of the river, would sustain damage).
I had Chouteau all to myself but when I approached the intersection with Grand the traffic light had been blown to the pavement and the signal , which was still a live wire, was swinging through the street and I narrowly avoided it. After dropping the lady off I figured I would take some time off and let the weather clam down and went into the Carpenter Branch of the St. Louis Public Library; but the electric was going on and off. When I left the library the rains were hitting the streets hard and now all traffic signals had stopped working (which didn’t stop a lot of guys driving around with booming systems from speeding through the streets in the rain) and half of the streets were impassable because large trees or utility polls had collapsed in the street.
The radio was busy and I picked up a disabled lady from the Old Post Office downtown and took her home to the projects on the Near North Side and I picked up two doctors who I had to take to The Hill to get some Italian food. The problem in the Hill was that it had no power, and I saw several vehicles which had polls or trees on top of them and a lot of polls and trees were leaning halfway at this point and I didn’t want to be under them when they fell. It was hard to find a place that was still open but I managed to get them to Favazzas and then get the hell out of the Hill.
Heading to the Central West End (a trendy upscale neighborhood) the lights were out and many of the streets were impassable as huge trees had fell all along Lindell and in the exclusive neighborhood off of Lake. Another problem also began to emerge; I needed gas and all of the gas stations were closed. This became very problematic as Lambert International Airport was evacuated because the roof of the building was torn off and landed in the highway. So I sat the rest of the night at Maryland House in the CWE with friends and tried to not think about all the money I was missing.
Thursday was hot as hell, the heat-factor over 100 and 100% humidity, and hundreds of thousands were without power and this became a health-concern for the elderly. The city, county, and private agencies began to set-up cooling centers for those without electricity and they quickly filled up or the power went out in them so people were forced to go further and further outside of the city. This led many people to rent hotel and motel rooms and by last night there were no vacancies anywhere and people coming in from out of town were sleeping at bus stations, train stations and the airport. My company was giving free rides for people to get to cooling centers and I took several people to cooling centers.
There is also another story. Last night I picked up a young women from Children’s Hospital who had been visiting her sick son. I had to take her to a neighborhood ( off Cherokee) which is bad and dangerous under any circumstances and it was completely without electricity and gangs of youths were roaming the streets with flashlights, sticks, and Allah knows what else. As I was dropping her off several youths approached the cab but I drive off before they got to me; but just a few blocks away I saw a group of young men busting out the window of an SUV, I guess that was their plan to get AC. Mayor Francis Slay is predicted a few more days with no AC, and weekends in St. Louis in the summer are already known for their violence, so I am just bracing and tying my camel as I drive this weekend Insha’Allah.