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Scorching Heat Wave Waylays East Coast States

July 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM EDT
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GWEN IFILL: Nursing homes were evacuated, transit slowed, and millions sought relief today as intense, hot weather continued to grip the East Coast.

Heat records were shattered all along the East Coast this week, as early summer readings headed into the triple digits — the hottest spot of all, Baltimore, where the temperature topped out at 105 degrees yesterday. The National Weather Service issued warnings for a searing swathe of real estate stretching from the Carolinas to New England and points west through Kentucky and into Illinois.

A full quarter of the nation’s population was sweating it out. The sudden swelter was remarkable. Just five months ago, Washington, D.C., was digging out of nearly three feet of snow. But, this week, tourists wandering the capital braved a blistering National Mall.

MAN: This heat is insane.

WOMAN: Tremendously unbearable.

GWEN IFILL: Nearby, Karen Dale was looking to cool off.

KAREN DALE, Washington, D.C.: It’s excruciatingly hot out here, and all I want to do is keep cool. I’m looking for the nearest pool, but I will take a sprinkler at any time.

GWEN IFILL: In Philadelphia, as elsewhere, the hottest kinds of work still had to be done.

For Saheed Dillard, it was laying asphalt.

SAHEED DILLARD, Philadelphia construction worker: It feels like you’re sitting on a griddle, and I am the hamburger or the hot dog.

GWEN IFILL: And, in broiling Boston, one dockside fisherman said the fish couldn’t care less about the heat.

MAN: It doesn’t make a difference, really. It depends upon when they feel like coming in.

GWEN IFILL: Even in normally-cool Portland, Maine, air conditioners were sold out.

ROBERT O’BRIEN, Aubuchon Hardware: We have had calls all day. And we have had to say, no, I’m sorry. We’re going to get some more at the end of the week, but, you know…

GWEN IFILL: The demand for cool taxed power grids. Utilities said they could handle the load, but there were scattered outages in several cities. Forty-two customers lost power in New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut. For those who lost their air conditioning and those who never had it, there were cooling centers, 100 in New York City alone.

ANTHONY BALLARD, suffering from heat: I have a studio without no air conditioner, so it is really like necessary to be here on a hot day like today.

GWEN IFILL: The heat also took its toll on transportation, buckling roadways in places, and it led Washington’s Metrorail system and others to slow down. Baked rails were in danger of bending under the pressure of fast-moving trains. Health officials also issued alerts, with small children and the elderly especially vulnerable.

DR. MICHAEL MANA, Erie County Medical Center: And it’s a combination of the high temperature and the high humidity that really causes the patients to have problems handling the heat, lightheadedness, headache, nausea, and those are the first symptoms of heat exhaustion.

GWEN IFILL: As it turned out, the weather was fit for neither man nor beast. Princess the pit bull was saved from heat stroke in a Philadelphia animal E.R.

DR. CRYSTAL LAUTENBACH, Mount Airy Animal Hospital: Signs of distress would be any evidence of labored breathing, disorientation, if they seem weak and lethargic, if you can feel that they feel extremely hot to you, if they’re panting a great deal.

GWEN IFILL: Of course, for some, it was all a matter of perspective, including this military veteran in New York City.

SOLDIER: I just got back from Iraq. This is, like, nothing.

GWEN IFILL: Forecasts called for temperatures to continue in the low 90s through the weekend.