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Blackouts Persist In Ca., Mo., & NYC

Heading into an 11th straight day of 100-degree heat, California is sweating out the possibility of more blackouts, with at least 56 suspected heat-related deaths.

Some communities faced their third day without electricity as the record-breaking temperatures strained transmission equipment.

"We're asking people for one more day of conservation," said Gregg Fishman, the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power grid. "We're not out of the woods yet."

In rural areas, the rotting carcasses of thousands of dairy cows and other livestock are sitting in the sun.

In St. Louis, Missouri, about 145,000 homes and businesses are still without power after two storms last week knocked out electricity to nearly 600,000 customers. A utility worker was electrocuted Tuesday and another was injured while trying to restore power.

Many grew frustrated with Ameren Corp.'s handling of the crisis. The Rev. Al Sharpton led a protest Tuesday in front of Ameren headquarters, saying the company was not doing enough to help poor and working-class people. The civil rights activist also called for a 10 percent rate cut to help the community recover.

Ameren officials have said the company responded within 15 minutes after the storm hit.

In Queens, New York, a blackout that left about 100,000 people without electricity during nine the hottest days of the year is finally winding down. Tuesday evening, Con Edison said fewer than 500 people remained without electricity.

The cause of the outage is under investigation; the City Council plans to hold hearings on the blackout and its handling, beginning on Thursday.

The utility got hit with its first blackout-related lawsuit Tuesday, filed by a woman who says she hopes some of her neighbors will join her in the legal action.

Sandra Boyle says her 2-year-old child became ill and she couldn't get in touch with a doctor for hours because she had no power. She is seeking unspecified damages for emotional and physical distress.

"If it was only me and my husband, I wouldn't be here," she said. "I'm very fed up with the whole thing. In this day and age - it's not a third-world country that we live in."

New York is still in the grip of hot weather and Con Edison is asking residents to conserve power – so as not to put too much strain on the newly-repaired equipment.

Elsewhere, a 51-year-old woman collapsed and died of heat stroke Monday while walking on a dirt road near her home in Lindsay, Okla., authorities said Tuesday. The temperature there had reached 95 degrees, and an autopsy showed the woman's body temperature was 112.

In California, the stretch of triple-digit weather that descended on the state last week marks the first time in 57 years that both Northern and Southern California have experienced extended heat waves simultaneously, California Undersecretary for Energy Affairs Joe Desmond said.

In the Central Valley, where most of the deaths have occurred, temperatures hovered between 100 and 105 degrees Tuesday, down from 110 to 115 in previous days. Truly cooler weather was not expected until Wednesday, when the system was forecast to move east into Nevada and Utah.

Coroners in 14 counties are investigating deaths that appeared heat-related. Most of the victims were elderly. Among the dead was a nursing home patient in Stockton who died after the air conditioning gave out in 115-degree weather. A gardener collapsed on the job and died. A woman was found dead along a bike path.

On Tuesday, three elderly residents of single-room occupancy hotels within four blocks of the state Capitol were found dead. The rooms had no air conditioning.

The heat has been hard on livestock as well, causing thousands of deaths and a dip in milk production in California, the No. 1 dairy state, according to agriculture officials.

In the San Joaquin Valley, a combination of the searing heat, bigger dairies and fewer plants to properly dispose of dead animals created a backlog of rotting carcasses.

"They're just sitting out there in the sun, drawing flies," said Fresno County dairy farmer Brian Pacheco.

Tens of thousands of customers in Northern and Southern California had no electricity. About 1,700 San Jose customers are facing their fourth day without power, with some residents sleeping in backyards and hotel rooms to escape the stifling heat.

Pacific Gas & Electric spokesman Brian Swanson said most outages were caused by equipment failures and not a shortage of electricity.

Another weather-related problem in California: a 14,000 acre lightning-ignited wildfire in Monterey County that has threatened over two dozen homes. Nearly 800 firefighters are on the scene; ten were injured; most had heat exhaustion.

In Los Angeles, about 26,000 people lost power Tuesday evening after the state's power consumption peaked Tuesday afternoon at 49,762 megawatts, just short of the record 50,270 megawatts set Monday.

"By the time 2011 comes around we're going to use 51 thousand, 52 thousand megawatts of energy," said Calif. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, urging citizens to do what they can to conserve energy. "Make sure to do the kind of things, for instance, use heavy appliances at night after 7pm. Those are the kind of things that you can do to help us so that we can make sure there are no blackouts in California."

"There has been an ongoing increase in power usage in the city, not because we're building new homes, but because people are using more electricity," said Carol Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. She noted that newer technology, including plasma and LCD televisions, require more electricity.

Tucker says many newly-installed transformers failed because they were not built to handle the high demand resulting from consecutive days of triple-digit temperatures.

"We have enough power to meet the demand, it's the equipment that can't handle it," Tucker said.

After they fix the burned out transformers, said Tucker, DWP engineers will assess power use in the blacked out neighborhoods to determine whether to install larger transformers.

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