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News Wrap: Extreme Heat Hits Northeast, Kills at Least 30 Nationwide

July 22, 2011 at 12:00 AM EDT

HARI SREENIVASAN: The long bout of searing weather hit the Northeast full force today, as the death toll neared 30 nationwide. Extreme conditions also lingered across the Plains and the Midwest.

For soldiers in the battle to beat the heat, it was another long day.

MAN: You leave your jacket and tie in your office, and you dress with a shirt and pants, and move on.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In New York’s Central Park, temperatures hit 100 by early afternoon, accompanied by punishing humidity that made it feel like 116.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg warned that increased use of air conditioners and fans could push power usage to an all-time record.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, (I) mayor of New York City: This, we think, will be the most stressful day on the electric grid in recent history, maybe ever, and what we need is for people to turn their air conditioners to no cooler than 79, if you can do that. It’s a little uncomfortable, but being — not having electricity would be a lot more uncomfortable.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And the city’s beaches offered no refuge. Instead, red flags warned swimmers to stay out of the water after a sewage spill into the Hudson River.

In Washington, D.C., those brave enough to venture out hit a wall of hot air, readings as high as 103.

MAN: Actually, we see people running, and it’s 100 degrees. I don’t know how they can do that. I really don’t.

HARI SREENIVASAN: In fact, emergency room visits were up in much of the country, with people suffering from heat exhaustion and heat stroke. The intense heat also continued over much of the Midwest. Cooler air is expected to move across the Northern Plains this weekend. But the East Coast will be sweating it out until early next week.

The ban on gays serving openly in the U.S. military will formally end in 60 days. President Obama gave the official notice today, after Pentagon leaders certified that repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell” won’t jeopardize the military’s ability to fight.

Defense Undersecretary Clifford Stanley said that troops are being prepared for the change.

CLIFFORD STANLEY, U.S. undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness: It remains a policy of the Department of Defense that sexual orientation is a personal and private matter, to treat all members with dignity and respect and to ensure maintenance of good order and discipline. There will be zero tolerance for harassment, violence, or discrimination of any kind.

HARI SREENIVASAN: The change will take effect on Sept. 20. In the meantime, Pentagon officials are trying to iron out legal and technical details.

A major bond rating agency has served notice that it plans to rule Greece in default. The Fitch ratings agency announced its decision today, a result of the Eurozone’s new bailout for Greece. Under that agreement, investors in Greek bonds are asked to accept new debt at lower interest rates and for longer terms. Fitch said the bondholders will take a loss, and that constitutes default.

On Wall Street, stocks finished the day with mixed results, but had a winning week overall. The Dow Jones industrial average lost 43 points to close at 12,681. The Nasdaq rose 24 points to close at 2,858. For the week, the Dow gained more than 1.5 percent; the Nasdaq rose 2.5 percent.

Those are some of the day’s major stories.