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May Goes Out with a Sizzle

May 31, 1987

Undated (AP) _ Sweating Northeasterners fled to the beaches, played in fountains and lined up for ice cream cones, cold sodas and air conditioners in an effort to fight muggy air and record heat Saturday, while sightseers became a problem in Oklahoma as floods receded.

The heat wave spawned sporadic thunderstorms in the Midwest, and an Illinos man was killed when high winds blew a tree onto his camper.

″Cooler by the shore″ was the motto in New York, where bridges and tunnels out of Manhattan were packed with beachgoers. Workers cleared trash and sludge from a 32-mile stretch of New Jersey shore, and bathers were assured that a greasy foam at the water’s edge posed no health hazard.

In Philadelphia, 100 children and adults splashed in a fountain. Cold soda sales were good; canoe and bike rentals, and anything else that required exertion, bad.

″We’re going to the museum where it’s nice and cold,″ said Mike Hall of Collingswood, N.J., who took his family to the Philadelphia Museum of Natural Sciences.

The weather pattern that brought the Gulf of Mexico’s swampy heat to the Northeast had caused heavy rain and tornadoes from Texas to Wisconsin earlier in the week. In Oklahoma, officials said damage could reach $20 million.

The hot weather brought problems along with the crowds at beach resorts.

″We’ll get bad sunburn, heat stroke, heat exhaustion, some heart attacks,″ said Gail Losee, nursing supervisor at Virginia Beach General Hospital. ″We get a lot of water types of injuries - drownings, near drownings, things like that.″

Northern New Jersey was hotter than the desert Southwest or any other part of the nation at the afternoon, with a record 98-degree reading in Newark. In New York the mercury reached 97, snapping the record of 92 set just one year ago.

Near Weehawken, N.J., a train carrying more than 550 people lost power in a tunnel under the Hudson River for more than two hours, and at least 20 had to be treated for heat exhaustion. None of the 20 had to be admitted to the hospital.

A 92-year-old record fell in Washington, D.C., when the temperature hit 97, and a 93-degree reading broke a 58-year-old record in Windsor Locks, Conn. High temperature records also tumbled in Alpena, Mich., Allentown Pa., and Youngstown and Mansfield, Ohio.

″There’s a big high-pressure system over the whole eastern part of the country, and nothing’s moving,″ said Jack Main of the National Weather Service in Norfolk, Va.

Basketball fans sweated inside Boston Garden, which has no air conditioning, as the Boston Celtics edged the Detroit Pistons 117-114 in Game 7 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals. Doors ″that haven’t been opened in a year″ were opened to ventilate the sweltering hall, said Celtics spokeswoman Patty Vetrano.

The heat and humidity created scattered thunderstorms that dropped rain and hail across wide areas of the Midwest. Lightning strikes caused some ground fires in Edinboro, Pa., and 55 mph winds felled power lines in Ohio’s Lorain County. Winds were clocked at 71 mph in Parma, Ohio.

In Illinois, Steven Gurley, 35, of Metropolis was camping with his family near Unionville when high winds toppled a tree onto his camper, killing him, authorities said.

Golf-ball size hail, gusty winds and heavy rains pounded southern Texas for another day Saturday, uprooting some trees and flooding roads and a business, authorities said. A funnel cloud was sighted near Mathis, the National Weather Service said.

In Cleveland, lightning knocked bricks off a church steeple, and police roped off the street, fearing more bricks might fall.

Severe thunderstorms in Indiana spawned high winds that destroyed a mobile home near the Ohio border, capsized seven boats on an Indianapolis-area reservoir and tipped over six planes at Indianapolis Metropolitan Airport, which handles primarily small, private aircraft. No serious injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, a tropical depression with 35 mph winds and rain moved across the Bahamas and brushed the Florida coast, but it was expected to fizzle out as it pushed over land. By late Saturday the loose core of the depression was about 60 miles southeast of Miami.

Residents of Pauls Valley, Okla., woke up Saturday to find dirt-laden Washita River water swirling waist-deep through town. About 400 National Guardsmen held back sightseers after two gawking drivers collided, causing five injuries.

″The only thing we do now is wait for the water to go down so we can hose out the dirt,″ said Jim Layne, the owner of an auto parts store. He was going through paperwork while standing in a foot of retreating water.

Youngsters rode rubber rafts along city streets in a moderate current. The Red Cross used boats to assess the flooding, reporting Saturday that four homes were destroyed and 950 others were damaged.

In Michigan, farmers worried about animal fatigue and dehydration. Ward Sundberg, a store manager in Houghton, said many residents headed for Lake Superior, which warms only to the 50s.

The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire lost a symbol Friday when the Council Oak crashed down in a burst of high wind. The tree, where Indians were said to have held meetings, was 300 years old.

Those who didn’t head for the hills turned up the air conditioners. Consolidated Edison reported its highest ever electric use for May on Friday, and Connecticut utilities were trying to assure an adequate power supply for Monday, when office air conditioners will pull more juice.

Evelyn Behrend, manager of West Side Air Conditioning, said her products sold like hotcakes. ″I’d say we’ve moved a good 15 or 20 air conditioners since this morning. We usually sell about six,″ she said.

Ice cream cones were another hot item, and parlors reported lines stretching out the door. ″The hotter it gets, the more people we usually have,″ said Dawn Sferlazza at Thomas Sweets in New Brunswick, N.J.

Conrad Burnett, at work since 8:30 a.m. selling cold sodas in Philadelphia, was trying keep out of the sun. ″We don’t drink our own profits,″ he said.

There was a shortage of romantic rides in Manhattan because carriage owners had to keep their horses stabled because of a law that mandates time off when the thermometer goes over 90 degrees.

Humans obey no such rules, and 8,225 women participated in the 6.2-mile L’Eggs Mini-Marathon in Central Park.

Five Massachusetts children suffered heat stroke Friday after a tour bus broke down in New York; four of them were headed home Saturday, and one was still hospitalized.

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