TOWANDA - The cold wind cut through layers of clothing at ground level, and Jim Carlock was in a bucket 20 feet up. | http://www.pantagraph.com/shared-content/gallery/?galleryid=4&gallery_page=0&album_page=0&albumid=32&mediaid=534"> Photo Gallery
The ice-covered farm fields around him glimmered with the orange sunset. He was out before sunrise, and would be out for several more hours.
Carlock is a third-generation lineman and a 20-year worker for AmerenIP and its predecessors. Late Tuesday afternoon, he was using a pole to disconnect a fuse to a power line so contractors could repair power lines that lay across a farmhouse driveway.
"We know how cold it can get, so this is not that bad," Carlock said.
The temperature was in the mid-20s as Carlock and eight men from Colorado worked to bring back power to individuals and small groups of homes that had been without electricity since last week's ice storm. Most lines serving large areas have been restored, and workers from several states are continuing to restore power to scattered customers throughout Central Illinois.
This particular group had been working as long as 18 hours a day since Saturday. Others have been working similar hours across Illinois and Missouri, which were walloped by a storm that first brought ice followed by snow.
"Yeah, we get tired," Carlock said. "But an 18-hour day's really not that bad."
Bill Mercer, a general foreman from Grand Junction, Colo., said the weather at home can be cold, but Illinois has felt colder. In Colorado, he said, "there's no humidity - it doesn't cut."
Mercer is part of a crew that builds power lines, and has worked on power equipment 21 years. He said his men started work at 5 a.m. Tuesday after going home about 8 p.m. Monday.
"This is work. This is what we love to do," Mercer said. "It's a fun job - lot of good guys."
The men work for a contractor, Sturgeon Electric. Mercer said he has worked from California to New Hampshire.
Ken Eck, a heavy equipment operator from Steamboat Springs, Colo., said he and the others were asked to come to Illinois, and they try to work as a crew.
Carlock understands the frustration of people who have lived without electricity for five days, but said most people he encountered appreciated of his work. He said an elderly woman yelled "God bless you" the night before, when power came on in her house.
"That makes our job so much more rewarding, when people are appreciative," Carlock said.
Helping the woman made the work worthwhile, but it meant he missed a stage performance by his 4-year-old daughter, Catherine, in "The Nutcracker." She played an angel and a mouse.
"Even though I missed my daughter's play, it was worth it to know I helped somebody," Carlock said.
Another man brought doughnuts to the crew while they were working on a line near Funks Grove. Many others simply gave thanks, Carlock said.
Carlock said damage from the storm is the most widespread he's seen in 28 years working as a lineman and a contractor before that.
By Tuesday night, Ameren IP outages were down to 120 in the Twin Cities and 149 in McLean County, with about 85,000 statewide, said Leigh Morris, Ameren spokesman. They hope to have most customers back on by tonight. But he said it could be Friday in hard-hit areas like the Decatur area or isolated rural areas.
But for Corn Belt Energy Corp., the outages totaled about 1,500 Tuesday evening, largely due to winds whipping weakened lines and tree limbs, said spokeswoman Laurie Vial. Corn Belt hopes to have everyone restored by Thursday evening.
It also may take more than a utility company to restore electricity, another Ameren IP spokesman, Natalie Hemmer, said. The ice storm caused extensive damage to the electric service entrances at customers' homes, which are the property owner's responsibility. It could include things such as the meter base or point where the electrical service attaches to the house. If that's the case, an electrical contractor needs to be hired by the homeowner so repairs can me made and utility workers can safely restore service. A diagram at www.amerencom shows a damage scenario where a homeowner is responsible.
Temperatures over the next few days won't have much of an effect on melting the snow and ice. Today's high is forecast to be 34, with a low of 20. Highs Thursday will only be in the 20s.
Post office needs your help
It turns out unshoveled walks and icy sidewalks and steps just might keep mail carriers from their appointed rounds, said Normal Postmaster Mitchell Rose, citing the potential for injuries. This also includes rural residents who need to clear the snow around their mailboxes.
Sharing the bounty
Twenty days before Christmas, Dianne Houchens felt a little like Santa Claus as she drove around Colfax on Tuesday to pass out meat from her deep freeze.
"Rather than throw it out, I thought, 'I'm going to go peddling,' " she said. "We have such caring neighbors who take care of us."
Houchens and her husband Winston, who live along Ill. Route 165 near Colfax, have been without power since Friday morning. While they've been able to keep their house semi-warm with a cast iron stove, they've had no power for the freezer in their garage.
"It was packed full and we had meat things beginning to thaw," she said.
Many of her neighbors offered to cook a meal for the couple, but Houchens said she and her husband planned to get something in Fairbury.
McLean, DeWitt, LaSalle, Livingston, Logan and Woodford counties were among 49 counties declared as state disaster areas. Ameren said the worst damage was in the Decatur and Metro East areas. Commonwealth Edison sent 50 volunteers to Hillsboro after Ameren requested help.
More than 250 National Guard troops - including the Pontiac unit - were in Decatur and Macon County checking on residents.
The soldiers conducted door-to-door well-being checks and reported to local authorities on hazards such as abandoned vehicles and downed trees and power lines, Illinois National Guard spokeswoman Stacey Rieger said.
Gov. Rod Blagojevich said the disaster declarations were meant to help the Illinois Emergency Management Agency coordinate resources to support local communities with recovery efforts.
Counties declared state disaster areas are Adams, Bond, Boone, Brown, Bureau, Calhoun, Cass, Champaign, Christian, DeKalb, DeWitt, Fulton, Greene, Hancock, Henry, Jersey, Kendall, Knox, LaSalle, Lee, Livingston, Logan, Macon, Macoupin, Madison, Marshall, Mason, McLean, McDonough, McHenry, Menard, Morgan, Monroe, Montgomery, Ogle, Peoria, Piatt, Pike, Putnam, Sangamon, Schuyler, Scott, Shelby, St. Clair, Stark, Stephenson, Tazewell, Winnebago and Woodford.
Pantagraph reporters Sharon Wolfe and Mary Ann Ford and The Associated Press contributed information for this story.