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Heat broils eastern US


NEW YORK (July 8, 1999) -- Lives were taken, records broken and utilities

strained as oven-like temperatures and swampy tropical air turned Fourth of

July week into a humid furnace in the eastern third of the United States.

The three-day heat wave shot the mercury above 100 degrees in many areas,

killing at least 27 people in the East and Midwest and plunging hundreds of

thousands of Easterners into darkness as scattered power shortages and

blackouts engulfed New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts and


A generator failure at a Dagsboro, Del., power plant belonging to Conectiv

led to rolling blackouts that affected about 400,000 of the utility's 1

million customers. Some 55,000 customers of GPU Inc., one of New Jersey's

three major electric utilities, suffered rolling outages Tuesday. In New

York, the Long Island Power Authority said outages had affected at least

50,000 customers.

In New York City, power failures left some 200,000 people in northern

Manhattan without electricity late Tuesday night after 6 of 14 high voltage

cables failed around 10 P.M. Service had been restored by late Wednesday

night, according to Consolidated Edison. The utility logged an all-time

usage record of 11,850 megawatts the day before.

It wasn't the only record smashed as the heat wave crested Tuesday.

Temperatures in Newark, N.J., and Washington, D.C., soared to 103 degrees.

Normally temperate Portland, Maine, was a balmy 94, Raleigh-Durham, N.C.,

hit 102, and West Virginia's eastern panhandle reported a heat index of 115

degrees. New York reached 101 degrees both Monday and Tuesday, a record for

each date.

For the very old and the very young, the heat turned deadly. New York City

reported eight heat-related deaths, Pennsylvania seven, New Jersey four,

Massachusetts four, and Illinois two.

In New York, 79-year-old Julia Johnson died Monday after being overcome by

109-degree temperatures in her Manhattan apartment. Three heatstroke

victims, all older than 70, were admitted in comas to New York area

hospitals Tuesday.

In Omaha, Neb., and Masontown, Pa., heat was blamed for the deaths of two

toddlers who were forgotten as they played in the family car.

New York's Emergency Medical Service set an all-time record of almost 5,000

emergency calls Tuesday, which eclipsed the May 1995 record of 4,607. "The

heat was the contributing factor," said an EMS spokesman.

"There's been a lot of cases of heat cramps, heat exhaustion," said William

Tier, a paramedic with the Fire Department cooling off inside the emergency

room at Brooklyn's Long Island College Hospital. "People are very wet, very


While relief agencies from the Salvation Army to the Church World Service

(CWS) were at the ready with manpower and air-conditioned 'cooling centers'

to help the heat-stricken, they were not called upon for aid.

"There's not been a state of emergency that would involve the Salvation

Army," said spokesman Craig Evans. "Obviously, that could change very

quickly if this goes on. We have a volunteer base that we can call on 24

hours a day to man the canteens, providing cold beverages and an

air-conditioned space. But we haven't had any requests for that from the


"The American Red Cross has been keeping its relief providers close at hand

to spring into action," said Robert Wingate, a spokesman with the ARC of

Greater New York.

Floyd Briggs, president of the Salvation Army of New Jersey, said the group

was closely monitoring the seniors in its programs. "We've opened cooling

centers, and our facilities are being kept open longer than usual," he said.

Bob Arnold, associate director of the Emergency Response Office of Church

World Service said a number of cooling centers were open at churches across

Manhattan and The Bronx, including Interchurch Center, Advent Hope,

Adventist Victory Church, Spanish Manhattan Church, and North Bronx Church.

"Most of the cooling centers are dealing with only a handful of drop-ins,"

said Arnold.

In Pennsylvania, increased water usage due to the heat has exacerbated

already record-breaking low groundwater levels. The mercury in Philadelphia

and Harrisburg topped out at 101 degrees Tuesday.

"A drought emergency is imminent," said state Department of Environmental

Protection spokeswoman Susan Rickens. "We're at groundwater levels that we

wouldn't normally see until late August at the end of a very dry summer.

We've still got more than half the summer to go, and groundwater normally

doesn't recover in summertime."

Rickens says the state currently has eight systems under mandatory

restrictions, which means no watering of lawns, no washing of cars except

with buckets, and only nighttime watering of plants. About half the people

in Pennsylvania depend on groundwater, either from private wells or public

systems that rely on groundwater levels.

"We need something like a hurricane that can throw some moisture our way,"

said Rickens. "Barring that -- hopefully, the mandatory restrictions will

prevent our going to that last, drastic step of water rationing."

Posted July 7, 1999

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