Heat and storms bring tragedy and misery to the East

10:28 AM, Jun 30, 2012   |    comments
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Blistering heat and massive power outages driven by violent storms held much of the eastern U.S. hostage Saturday, with no end to the misery in sight.

More than two million people lost power after the storms, and at least nine people have died, authorities said. Hardest hit was the Washington, D.C., area, but outages were reported from Indiana to New Jersey.

The heat wave, with temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, added to the region's woes. Washington reached 104 degrees on Friday - topping a record of 101 set in 1934 - and temperatures were heading back there Saturday.

Power companies warned that restoration after Friday night's storms could take days, and the National Weather Service provided an equally bleak picture, warning that much of the region could see 100 degrees for the next few days.

And the possibility of more severe weather also loomed.

Shaun Dakin, 45, of D.C. suburb Falls Church, Va., has been without power since 10:30 Friday night. He said he was home with his son, Joseph, 8, when the storm hit. Within seconds, what had been a warm and calm evening turned into a wet and raging storm.

"The wind just boomed," he said. "It was lightning and rain and thunder all at once."

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell said six deaths had been blamed on the storm in that state. Another was killed by a falling tree in Maryland. And in New Jersey, police in Pittsgrove said two cousins aged 7 and 2 died when a tree fell on their tent while camping with their families at Parvin State Park.

Dominion Electric, with almost 2.5 million customers in Virginia and North Carolina, reported more than 660,000 customers without power Saturday afternoon. Pepco was reporting 406,000 power outages in the District of Columbia and the suburban Maryland's Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

"We have more than half our system down," said Pepco spokeswoman Myra Oppel. "This is definitely going to be a multi-day outage."

Winds in excess of 70 miles per hour uprooted trees and blew down limbs, bringing down power lines and poles all over the region and making power restoration an arduous task, said Pepco regional president Thomas Graham.

Graham warned that the weather forecast for the Washington area called for more thunderstorms today, which could cause additional outages.

"We'll work full force and around the clock until every customer is restored," he said.

Some utilities reported progress. Duke Energy said it had restored power to almost 100,000 of the 178,000 households that were left without electricity in the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky area.


•West Virginia Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin declared a state of emergency after more than 500,000 customers in 27 counties were left without electricity.

•More than 20 elderly residents at an apartment home in Indianapolis were displaced when the facility lost power due to a downed tree. Most were bused to a Red Cross facility to spend the night, and others who depend on oxygen assistance were given other accommodations, the fire department said.

•The city of Baltimore has opened five cooling centers for residents and extended public pool hours amid high temperatures and power outages, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said.

The National Weather Service warned that high temperatures this afternoon will exceed 100 degrees across the mid/lower Mississippi River Valley eastward through the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast today. Some are are expected to break record high temperatures.

"The above normal readings combined with increased humidity will create dangerous heat index values ranging from 105 to 115 degrees," the weather service said.

Courtney Mann, a pediatric emergency physician at WakeMed Hospitals and Health in Raleigh, N.C., warned that the public should know how to recognize the signs of heat exhaustion, a precursor to potentially deadly heat stroke.

Early signs include mild dizziness, nausea, headache, muscle cramping, and fatigue. Such symptoms should be treated by drinking cooling fluids or sports drinks, and immersing in cool baths, air conditioning or mists.

Anybody exhibiting confusion with a temperature of 104 after external heat exposure should get emergency treatment in a hospital, Mann says. "They can die from heat stroke," she says.

Children and the elderly are physiologically most vulnerable, but according to statistics provided by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, the great majority of 75 patients reporting heat-related symptoms in the past two weeks were in the 25-to-64 age range.

Mann says people working or exercising outdoors should limit activity to early morning or late evening and take multiple breaks.

"The most effective way to get rid of heat is through evaporation," she says.

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