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News you can use during a power outage

Storms that ripped through Illinois this week–more than 10 confirmed tornadoes in northern Illinois, including one in Chicago–left more than 800,000 ComEd customers and about 55,000 Ameren customers without power. If you are one of the unlucky ones who may not have power until Saturday, here are  some helpful resources:

Where can I get information about outages?  

Here’s the outage map from Ameren Illinois and here’s ComEd’s map. For easy access to information about your own home, set up an online account with your utility. (You can do that here for Ameren and here for ComEd.)

With the Ameren map, another option to get info about your home is to click on “Check Outage Status.” With the ComEd map, click “Search” at the left, and type in a zip code or address.  When that area pops up you can click on an icon to get details on the outage (including an estimate on when power will be restored).

Note: CUB’s dedicated team of consumer advocates, at 1-800-669-5556, will help check your outage status if you do not have internet access.

If I’ve suffered an extended power outage, should I file a claim with the utility to get reimbursed for spoiled food and other losses? 

It’s worth a try, and here’s where you can get the claim forms for ComEd and Ameren. Illinois law says that customers could be entitled to compensation for losses or damages directly related to the outage in the event of a power interruption that impacts more than 30,000 customers for four hours or more. (Even local governments can get reimbursed for “emergency and contingency expenses” as a result of the outage.) These outages definitely qualify, BUT the utility is allowed to ask for an exemption from reimbursing customers for “unpreventable damage due to weather events or conditions.” (See page 3 of the ComEd claim form.) The system of thunderstorms, called a derecho (pronounced deh-RAY-cho), that brought 70-100 mile per hour winds as it cut a 700-mile path of destruction from Iowa to northern Indiana sure seems to qualify as a “weather event.” Still, if you’re really upset and you think you have a unique situation that merits a claim, it doesn’t hurt to file one.

What safety precautions should I take during an outage?

 Thankfully, nobody was seriously injured by the tornadoes, but in the wake of the storms, one man was killed when he stepped on a downed power line. That’s just one of the many hazards during a power outage. Tips from:

Some key tips after major storms or during power outages:

  • Beware of strolling the neighborhood after a major storm. Stay away from fallen or low-hanging wires or anything they contact, and be especially cautious near metal fences.
  • Stay alert for natural gas odors. If you smell natural gas, or if you hear a blowing or hissing noise, leave the area immediately and call your utility.
  • Turn off or disconnect appliances, equipment, or electronics.
  • Keep refrigerator and freezer doors closed as much as possible. An unopened refrigerator will keep foods cold for about 4 hours. A full freezer will keep the temperature for about 48 hours (24 hours if it is half full) if the door remains closed.
  • First use perishable food from the refrigerator. Perishables should have a temperature of 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to be safe to eat. (Use a food thermometer to check.)  THEN use food from the freezer. And THEN use your non-perishable foods and staples.
  • If it looks like the power outage will continue beyond a day, prepare a cooler with ice for your freezer items. Keep food in a dry, cool spot and keep it covered at all times.
  • Beware of scams. WBBM Radio reported that the Illinois Emergency Management Agency and the Attorney General’s office warns people in storm-damaged areas to watch out for scammers looking to exploit homeowners and business owners who may be in need of repairs. Never pre-pay for repair services. If you are contacted and suspect fraud, report the incident to your local law enforcement, or contact the Consumer Fraud Hotline at 1-800-243-0618.
  • Stay away from downed power lines. Don’t try to “help” utility workers by moving branches off the lines. Keep a safe distance:, at least 10 feet away, and call your utility: Ameren, 1-800-755-5000, or ComEd, 1-800-334-7661.

We all should be at our best at times like this, so please check on your neighbors to make sure they’re alright. (Just wear a mask and practice social distancing.)

If you have questions, concerns or complaints, contact your utility first. If you don’t like the response you get, please call CUB, 1-800-669-5556. We’re here for you.