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Nation May Get Relief From Heat

July 23, 1998

As soaring temperatures baked New England in a suffocating heat wave blamed for deaths from coast to coast, Frank Hagan needed a jacket.

Hagan had one fear as his work day hanging meat inside a freezing Boston meat locker came to an end: going back outside.

``It seems like 105 to us once we get off work,″ he said.

Cooler temperatures _ still in the 80s and 90s _ were forecast for today across parts of the Plains, South and Northeast. And in northern Texas, where the heat wave has been centered for more than two months, temperatures may drop below 100 this weekend.

But on Wednesday, the record-setting heat kept a stranglehold on much of the country, from New England to the Southwest. It is blamed for 133 deaths.

Since the heat began in mid-May, at least 87 people have died in Texas, 26 in Louisiana, 13 in Oklahoma, three in Missouri, two in Pennsylvania and one death each in California and Arizona.

Dallas hit 102 degrees Wednesday, the 17th day in a row with temperatures over 100. Record highs were also set at Dulles Airport near Washington, D.C., at 98 degrees and at Atlantic City, N.J., which hit 96.

``It’s like getting in a car after it’s been sitting in the sun for a while,″ said Donna Bartha, a patient advocate in Norristown, Pa., who feared for elderly in non-air conditioned hospital rooms.

The elderly were advised in many states to be particularly cautious and to call a doctor if they felt dizzy, had a headache or showed other signs of heat stress. And despite high demand, utility officials in Texas urged consumers to leave their air-conditioning units on and worry about the bill later.

``We are not going to disconnect your services during these hot times,″ said utility official Ron Keeney.

With the temperature in New York reaching 93 and the humidity making it feel more like 110 degrees, meteorologists announced Wednesday as the hottest day of the year. Boston, too, recorded a stifling 93, a new high.

The Big Apple was so hot that Brook Betz preferred to trudge 10 blocks to work rather than go beneath ground.

``You couldn’t pay me to take the subway today,″ Betz said. ``There’s no air down there.″

Fire officials in New York, Baltimore and Trenton, N.J., allowed hydrants fitted with spray caps _ a sprinkler of sorts _ to be turned on in neighborhoods without pools.

Easterners trapped in urban pockets had to think up creative ways to beat the asphalt-melting heat.

Melissa Holley, of Trenton, drove to an air-conditioned market for a stroll. ``I walked around for two hours. It was so cool there,″ she said. Her big purchase? ``Just ice cream.″

Those whose jobs forced them outside could only grumble.

``The hard part is going from the air-conditioning to the heat,″ said Frank Johnson, a meter reader for New York’s largest utility. ``When you leave a building and go outside, the sudden change is devastating on your body.″

Owen Nestor, 18, of Quincy, Mass., was lugging boxes for Viking Moving in Boston. ``I’ve been drinking a lot of water and taking more breaks than normal,″ he said. ``I’m definitely looking forward to the fall.″

Temperatures reached 100 degrees in Richmond, Va., but with the humidity factored in, much of the state felt like 110. It was grim news for workers like James Henley, 60, who was shaping wet cement around midday at a construction site in downtown Richmond.

``You have to take your time,″ he said.

The heat took a toll on man and machine alike. The American Automobile Association’s Mid-Atlantic office said an unusually high number of car batteries have exploded.

The dog days of summer are also a big danger to man’s best friend.

Stephanie Brocksbank, manager of New Jersey’s Animal Placement Agency, set out kiddie pools for her shelter’s eight pooches.

``If they can get into a pool or something, they can cool off _ although I have some little ones here that are not hot about dunking,″ she said.

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