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Heat Wave Ebbs in Parts of Country

July 19, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) _ Relief from the heat wave was in sight in the Northeast as a cold front was expected to lower temperatures to the mid-80s on Wednesday.

The first signs of cooler weather arrived with a bang starting Tuesday afternoon, when heavy thunderstorms swept across parts of the region, knocking out power to tens of thousands of utility customers from New Jersey to Vermont.

About 365,000 customers in Pennsylvania and about 4,400 Consolidated Edison customers north of New York City were without power. A 44-year-old woman was killed Tuesday when lightning hit her in a Detroit park.

The storms also sparked a fire at Rhode Island’s Port of Providence when lightening struck a tanker as it was unloading gasoline, sending large plumes of smoke and fireballs into the air.

The heat was likely to persist elsewhere in the country, including the southern Plains and Nebraska, where temperatures were expected to remain high _ more than 100 degrees in some spots _ through the end of the week.

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

While it lasted, the heat caused plenty of headaches 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. Passengers were bused to other area airports, but officials hoped to return to a normal schedule Wednesday.

Amtrak travelers riding between Washington, D.C., 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.

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.″

On Long Island, auto mechanic Rick Baymack said he was trying hard to stay cool while at work.

``Plenty of cold water,″ he said. ``We stay in the shade, we keep the hoods closed on cars as long as we can, before the car comes in the shop we let it cool down.″

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

In New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg reminded residents to conserve electricity. He 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 said it set a new peak summer demand record for the second day in a row, with 5,426 megawatts of electricity used Tuesday _ enough electricity to power more than 5 million homes.

The heat that has stifled much of the nation since late last week has contributed to the deaths of at least nine people, including two in Oklahoma City, one in Philadelphia, one in Arkansas and one in Indiana.

The toll increased Tuesday with word that a 23-year-old man with cerebral palsy died in a Philadelphia suburb after apparently being left in a sweltering van by accident, authorities said.

And in the Chicago area, three women, one in her 50s and two in their 70s, died from the combination of pre-existing conditions and heat stress, according to a spokesman for the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

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