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U.S. Observes Sultry Fourth of July

July 4, 2012 at 12:00 AM EST
Heat and hardship didn't stop Americans from celebrating Independence Day on Wednesday with parades barbecues and fireworks. But prolonged power outages, record high temperatures and wildfires made it a challenging Fourth of July for many. Gwen Ifill reports.
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GWEN IFILL: Five days after a storm that cut a path from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic, many Americans were still in the dark, sweating out this Fourth of July. The death toll from those storms has now reached 26.

In the West, scores of wildfires continued to rage, but that didn’t stop the cookouts and the parades.

Temperatures approaching 100 degrees didn’t stop hundreds from lining the streets in Washington today for a neighborhood Fourth of July parade and picnic. But even as Americans from coast to coast celebrated the nation’s independence, many longed for a different kind of dependence: on electricity.

JIM VLACH, Washington, D.C.: Everybody in the block has power, but our house and the house across the street. The neighbor next door let me plug into her house, so I can run the freezer and the refrigerator in the basement, and the television set, but that’s it.

LIZ ROSE, Washington, D.C.: I understand that there are big storms and there’s going to be a power outage. But, you know, I noticed that the crews that finally did come five days later were not from the area. And I really think that they should train more local workers.

GWEN IFILL: More than 900,000 homes and businesses from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic are still without power, since destructive storms struck last week. This week’s record high temperatures haven’t helped.

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In suburban Maryland, dozens flocked to the Old Georgetown Swim and Tennis Club to beat the heat. Thanks to a generator, the pool reopened to members for the first time today.

CONNIE SMINK, Old Georgetown Swim and Tennis Club Pool Operations Manager: Came in Saturday morning and the pool was a disaster. And there were leaves all over the place. There were several large branches down. It took the staff and I all day Saturday to just clean up the pool get it ready.

GWEN IFILL: In the Mountain West, Colorado is still dealing with the worst outbreak of wildfires in state history.

One of them, the Waldo Canyon blaze, alone may have already caused $110 million in damage. Those fires, plus dry conditions in other states, have led to a ban on one of the patriotic holiday’s most common traditions: fireworks.

WOMAN: Raise your right hand.

GWEN IFILL: In another traditional ritual, new citizens were sworn in across the country. At a special ceremony in the nation’s capital, President Obama renewed his election-year call for new immigration laws and praised two dozen newly naturalized active-duty military personnel.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: You put on the uniform of a country that wasn’t yet fully your own. In a time of war, some of you

deployed into harm’s way. You displayed the values that we celebrate every Fourth of July: duty, responsibility, and patriotism.

WOMAN: How are you?

MITT ROMNEY (R), Presidential Candidate: Happy Fourth to you.

GWEN IFILL: Republican Mitt Romney, who spent the day at a parade and other festivities near his summer home in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire, also paid tribute to the military.

MITT ROMNEY: The sacrifices that are being made by our fighting men and women around the world continue to inspire me and to give me a confidence that our future is bright.

GWEN IFILL: In Afghanistan, troops shared messages for families and friends back home.

SOLDIER: Have a happy holiday. Happy Fourth of July.

SOLDIER: Miss you guys. Wish I was with you. Have a great day.

GWEN IFILL: And in New York, a group of service members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan visited the 9/11 Memorial.