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Nation May Get Relief From Heat

July 23, 1998

As a suffocating heat wave gripped much of the country, 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.

New Englanders turned on so many air conditioners and fans Wednesday that they set a record for electricity usage, according to ISO New England, which oversees the generation and transmission of electricity in six states.

Lower 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 at Teresa’s Gourmet Coffee Bar in New York City, where high humidity continued to make the heat particularly oppressive, more than 300 iced coffees had been sold by 10 a.m. today.

``I’m a coffee drinker, but in this weather I have to drink iced coffee,″ said patron Deborah Doft, 25.

On Wednesday, the record-setting heat kept a stranglehold on much of the country, from New England to the Southwest. It is blamed for more than 130 deaths.

In Philadelphia, authorities were investigating the death of a 21-month-old girl who was left strapped in a car seat for 10 hours in her family’s stifling minivan.

Angelika Gaines’ parents found her in the car at 10 a.m. Wednesday, when outside temperatures were already in the high 80s. The van was locked, its windows shut tight.

The family had been out late the night before at a church service and had herded their three other children into the house. Little Angelika was somehow left behind, authorities said.

Her father, the Rev. David Gaines, associate pastor of Consolation Baptist Church in South Philadelphia, rushed the child to the hospital. But her body temperature was 109 degrees when she got there, and doctors could not revive her.

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 each in California and Arizona.

Dallas hit 102 degrees Wednesday, the 17th day in a row with temperatures over 100. The Dallas-Fort Worth area set a record for the most days in a single month in which the low temperature never dropped below 80 degrees. The low Wednesday was 81.

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.″

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