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Dangerously Hot Weather

Broiling temperatures in the 90s and beyond gripped large swaths of the country Monday, sending people scrambling for the shade and prompting officials to open air-conditioned buildings and take to the streets to rescue the homeless and elderly.

On the streets of New York, a spot in the shade competed with a parking space as a valuable commodity. Men and women made their way under narrow awnings, lounged under trees and took breaks beneath the umbrellas of hot dog stands.

"Any walking around today and you are just burning up," said Elia Escuerdo, 37, from the Bronx. "I'm giving up. I had a doctor's appointment, but I'm just going home to sit near my air conditioner."

The temperature reached 94 in New York City, with a heat index – that is, the combined effects of heat and humidity - of 99.

The heat may have caused a New York subway train to lose power, stranding commuters for over two hours. About 70 people had to be evacuated. Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said the power loss may have been caused when the "third rail" - which powers the train - buckled.

One of the four LaGuardia Airport terminals and part of a second lost power, too, when high demand caused by the heat triggered equipment problems. Some flights were diverted to other gates.

Sal Pistone, a construction worker at a site south of Penn Station, says job one for him is staying hydrated.

"We can't wear shorts," says Pistone. "You got to drink as much as you can and try to avoid the heat... You can't work in the shade. Can't beat the heat over here."

Technology delivered a blessing for another New York construction worker, backhoe operator Troy Williams.

"I feel sorry for whoever has to work outside," Williams told WCBS-TV, pointing to the air conditioner pumping away at full blast in his rig. "It's nice. It's about 50 in here, as compared to what? Ninety out there?"

One hundred-plus degree temperatures are straining power supplies in California, reports CBS Radio News correspondent Barry Bagnato, and Washington radio stations are cautioning people with respiratory problems, the elderly and very young to stay indoors until the heat subsides.

In Illinois, state officials made more than 130 office buildings available as cooling centers. Detroit cranked up the air conditioning in 11 of its libraries and invited the public to take refuge from the heat. In Kentucky, Louisville officials offered free fans or air conditioners to those in immediate need.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty has ordered the National Guard to help firefighters as temperatures even in the normally cool northern part of the state pushed toward 100 degrees in very dry conditions.

In Arkansas, authorities blamed the heat for at least one death but did not release any details. And a 60-year-old woman was found dead of lung disease and heat stress in her Philadelphia home. On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy died in South Bend, Ind., after apparently locking himself inside a car in 90-degree heat, relatives and neighbors said.

Fierce heat blanketed the nation from California to the Northeast. Scores of communities reported temperatures of more than 100. Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees. Parts of Oklahoma hit 109.

The Northeast could get a break starting Tuesday night, with scattered showers and thunderstorms expected for parts of the region, but the heat was likely to persist in the southern Plains until Friday, according to the National Weather Service.

At the nonprofit Bishop Sullivan Center in Kansas City, Mo., officials passed out window air conditioners to the elderly.

"It's just oppressive some of the houses you walk into," said center Director Tom Turner. He recalled one woman who was "just dripping with sweat. I thought she had been doing yardwork or something, but her house was just that hot."

Scores of people in St. Louis were treated for heat-related illnesses over the sweltering weekend. The city and its surrounding counties are under an "Excessive Heat Warning" that extends through Friday. The National Weather Service says the heat index could reach 109 degrees on Monday.

Almost 100 people succumbed to the heat and needed treatment during the St. Louis Cardinals' game Sunday. Temperatures at the stadium exceeded 100 degrees. At least five people were taken to the hospital, but none of the cases appeared to be life threatening.

In Cleveland, Tony Godel was already sweating through his brown T-shirt by 10 a.m. Monday as he worked on a remodeling project at a hotel in Cleveland. He planned to drink a lot of water.

"You get used to it after a while," Godel said. "You know what you're getting into. You're paid to deal with it."

The heat pushed power consumption to a record in some states, and calls also went out for electricity conservation. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ordered state offices to adjust thermostats and turn off nonessential lights for the rest of the week to reduce electricity.

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia, asked people to reduce usage, especially between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging set up a telephone "heatline," with nurses available to answer questions about coping with the heat.

The city Health Department sent outreach workers to help the homeless and elderly, just as it does during bitterly cold weather. Managing Director Pedro Ramos said workers would help them avoid dehydration and find shelter.

In Chicago, the stifling weather prompted organizers of the Gay Games to deliver extra water and sports drinks to athletes. Spokesman Kevin Boyer said organizers asked competitors to bring extra ice and fluids to various events.

In New York City, the record for the date was set in 1953, when Central Park recorded 100 degrees. On Monday, the mercury had reached 90 before noon.

The line at the Empire State Building was short - only 15 minutes to the top. In summer months, tourists wait more than two hours.

Annelisa Leite, 17, said she and a friend did not want to wait around in the heat to get a glimpse of the city from on high.

"We went to Macy's instead," said Leite, who was visiting from Brazil. "It was too hot to stand in line, even if the line was short."

The federal government reported last week that the first half of 2006 was the warmest in the United States since record keeping began in 1895. The average temperature for the 48 contiguous United States from January through June was 51.8 degrees, or 3.4 degrees above average for the 20th century.

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