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Danger Rises with Prolonged Searing Heat, Maryland Governor Says

July 3, 2012 at 12:00 AM EDT
In the Midwest and the East, crews have been working for several days to return power to residents, where 24 people have died in extreme heat conditions. And in Colorado, the recovery from the devastating wildfires continues. Jeffrey Brown reports on efforts to tame fires and restore utilities.
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JEFFREY BROWN: And now more on the ongoing natural disasters across the country.

In the East, weekend storms and searing heat have claimed 24 lives, and thousands more are waiting for relief, while in the West, the end of a deadly wildfire may be in sight.

Chain saws echoed across the Midwest and Atlantic again today, as crews cut away at fallen trees and utility workers kept up long shifts to turn the power back on for well over a million homes and businesses across seven states and the District of Columbia. They were all up against the clock, as scorching heat continued for a fourth day. And the misery and impatience grew in intensity, from Maryland…

WOMAN: I think it’s a little bit incompetent the way the process is being handled. Seven days is — to me is unacceptable.

JEFFREY BROWN: … to New Jersey.

WOMAN: We haven’t had power since early Saturday morning. And it’s very warm. It’s difficult to sleep there.

JEFFREY BROWN: This grocery in Middlebourne, West Virginia, handed out truckloads of free bottles of water and ice to needy families.

MARY YOUNG, Virginia: Somebody called us said and that they were giving away water here. So we came and got some water here. But it’s 104 degrees up in the shade up at our house right now.

JEFFREY BROWN: But Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and others warned the blistering heat could claim more lives, especially if power outages last to the weekend.

GOV. MARTIN O’MALLEY (D-MD): We are now heading into probably the most dangerous part of this event. And why do I say that? Because the more prolonged the heat exposure, the more prolonged the time that especially a lot of elderly citizens are — have been forced to spend in isolated ways in the heat, without air conditioning, the more worn out, the more vulnerable they become.

JEFFREY BROWN: Meanwhile, in the West, there was new progress in the fight to control record wildfires, especially the 28 square mile Waldo Canyon fire near Colorado Springs.

The U.S. secretaries of homeland security and agriculture, Janet Napolitano and Tom Vilsack, witnessed that progress firsthand today.

TOM VILSACK, U.S. Agriculture Secretary: We are 70 percent contained, which means that we have 30 percent more work to do. I assure you that we will continue to be aggressive in fighting this fire. We will continue to be persistent. But the reality is these fires tricky. And so we’re also going to have to have some degree of patience.

JEFFREY BROWN: Crews focused on the fire’s northern perimeter in West Monument Creek.

CHAD OLSEN, Operations Section Chief: Still some uncontained line in there. And it’s real rough country. So, firefighters have had a hard time getting in there, getting access.

And we do have line in there, but it’s not quite secure. So we’re looking at a couple, three days until we feel really comfortable.

JEFFREY BROWN: And, in South Dakota, four deaths were confirmed after an Air Force tanker plane crashed on Sunday, fighting a blaze in the Black Hills. Two other crew members survived.

The plane was from an Air National Guard wing based in Charlotte, North Carolina. Investigators were still trying to determine what caused the fatal crash. But the Air Force’s C-130 tanker fleet resumed flying today after being temporarily grounded.