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Heat Wave Ebbs in Parts of U.S.

July 19, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) _ The Northeast got a little relief Wednesday, with late morning temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s, about 20 degrees cooler than parts of the southern Plains.

On the Plains and in much of the Midwest, the sticky, steam bath weather was hanging on. The temperature was expected to top 100 in Arkansas, Nebraska and areas each day through the end of the week.

The soaring heat had already been blamed for 12 deaths, from South Dakota, where a hiker collapsed, to Pennsylvania, where a 23-year-old man with cerebral palsy died Tuesday after apparently being left in a sweltering van, authorities said.

Utilities across the Northeast faced record peaks for electricity demand as people turned up their air conditioners and officials pleaded with them to conserve.

The first signs of a reprieve in the Northeast hit with a bang Tuesday afternoon as heavy thunderstorms swept into the area along a cold front, knocking out power to hundreds of thousands of utility customers.

At least 60,000 customers in New Jersey and about 365,000 in Pennsylvania lost power. In the New York City suburbs, 25,000 customers still had no power by midday Wednesday in Westchester County to the north and 19,000 were in the dark on Long Island, utility officials said. Connecticut Light & Power reported over 23,000 without power early Wednesday.

The same front had earlier caused storm damage in parts of Wisconsin and Michigan, where 75,000 customers were still blacked out Wednesday. Lightning killed a woman in a Detroit park Tuesday.

The hottest place in the nation Tuesday was Needles, Calif., which hit 109. New York City thermometers peaked at 95 degrees in Central Park on Tuesday and 100 at LaGuardia Airport, the National Weather Service said.

Relief could not come soon enough for many people working outdoors.

``If I see sprinklers or hydrants, I just drench myself,″ said New Haven, Conn., letter carrier Ceferino Roman, who walked his route in 20-minute intervals, taking breaks in between. ``This is the worst.″

Before the storms arrived in the evening, the heat also caused electrical problems on the East Coast.

An electrical cable failed at LaGuardia, knocking out power to one terminal and part of a second terminal for several hours. American Airlines canceled 45 flights, and Delta canceled 11 flights.

Amtrak travelers between Washington and New York on Tuesday evening experienced delays of at least an hour that conductors blamed on the extreme heat, which requires trains to travel at reduced speeds.

Utilities set records for electricity use, and health departments advised people without air conditioning to cool off in senior centers, malls and movie theaters.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg reminded residents to conserve electricity and directed City Hall to do its part: Only natural light filtered into the rotunda Tuesday, and some passageways and rooms were dark.

``There’s plenty of light coming through the windows _ you don’t have to keep the lights on _ and if everybody did some of that, that would really save some electricity,″ the mayor said.

The Long Island Power Authority set a record for peak summer demand two days in a row, with 5,426 megawatts of electricity used Tuesday _ enough to power more than 5 million homes on a normal day. Peco Energy Co. said the Philadelphia region also hit a high at 8,653 megawatts. The entire New England regional power grid set a record at 27,374 megawatts, said Ken McDonnell, spokesman for grid manager ISO New England.

The heat that has stifled much of the nation since late last week has contributed to the deaths of at least 12 people, including three in the Chicago area, two in the Philadelphia area, two in Oklahoma City, two in Arkansas and one each in Indiana, South Dakota and Tennessee.

The case in South Dakota was a 52-year-old Ohio woman who died Sunday of apparent heat exhaustion and dehydration while hiking the 100-plus degrees of Badlands National Park, officials said Wednesday. Two hikers also died in the heat of the southern Utah desert, but the causes of death had not been determined Wednesday.

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