Cheryl Kennedy had just one word to describe the stagnant, sticky, downright dense heat that blanketed the downtown business district and most of the nation.
"Insanity. Insanity!" she said.
After a long sip of water, Kennedy added, "This is not fit for human beings. Without air conditioning, I don't think many of us could last like this for too long."
She and millions of Americans may have no choice, the heat wave that has gripped most of the nation showed few signs of abating and may persist for some regions until the weekend, CBS News meteorologist George Cullen says.
As CBS News correspondent Trish Regan reports, the heat is on from the streets of Philadelphia to the beaches of Los Angeles.
There have been reports of 120-degree heat in South Dakota, and it hasn't been that hot there since the Dust Bowl of 1936.
"For it to be 100 degrees on the East Coast and 100 degrees in Salt Lake City, the widespread heat is what makes this particular hot spell unusual," Penn State University meteorology professor Fred Gadomski told CBS News.
Scores of communities Monday reported temperatures of more than 100 degrees: Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees; Grand Junction in western Colorado hit 101; Russell, Kan., hit 108; The National Weather Service had a report of 120 degrees just outside Usta in northwest South Dakota.
Blasting air conditioners sent power consumption surging. Records were set all over the country — Californians used 46,000 megawatts, the most ever, Regan reports.
Parts of the Midwest got a little relief Tuesday from a cool front squeezing down from Canada. The 8 a.m. temperature in Milwaukee was 65, compared 76 at the same time Monday.
The cooler air set off storms in Wisconsin and Michigan, with utilities in the two states reporting more than 300,000 customers black out. One woman was reported killed by lightning early Tuesday in Detroit.
The Northeast could get a break starting Tuesday night, with scattered showers and thunderstorms expected in parts of the region, but the heat was likely to persist in the southern Plains until Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
Washington, D.C. declared a heat emergency Tuesday, allowing the city's
Department of Emergency Management to get involved. The heat plan
takes effect when the temperature goes over 95 degrees.
The heat killed a 76-year-old Oklahoma City man in a house where the air conditioner was broken, officials said Tuesday. Three other deaths in Oklahoma were suspected to be linked to the heat.
A 60-year-old woman was found dead of lung disease and heat stress in her Philadelphia home. In Arkansas, authorities blamed the heat for at least one death but did not release any details. On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy died in South Bend, Ind., after apparently locking himself inside a car in 90-degree heat.
The heat may have caused a New York subway train to lose power, stranding commuters for about 2 1/2 hours. About 70 people had to be evacuated. A transit spokesman said the power loss may have been caused when the "third rail," which powers the train, buckled.
One of LaGuardia International Airport's four terminals and part of a second lost power in New York when high demand caused by the heat triggered equipment problems.
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.
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.
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.
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. Officials also opened more than 138 state office buildings to serve as cooling centers, Regan reports.
For some, the heat was a bonanza. Rick Boaz, owner of Oklahoma City AC Rescue, said his air conditioning installation and repair business is busier than ever.
"We're getting more business than we can handle; it's just the heat," Boaz said. "I'd hate for the heat to affect my business, but the reality of it is, extreme temperatures drive my business."
At the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden, gorillas got frozen fruit treats, bears played with ice-covered fish, elephants were hosed down, and large fans, water sprinklers and kiddie pools helped other animals stay cool.
Health officials warned people to take precautions, such as never leaving children or pets in closed vehicles, wearing lightweight, loose clothing and drinking plenty of fluids.
Signs of heat exhaustion include complaints of weakness and of feeling faint, plus dizziness, nausea, headache and confusion. Sufferers should be moved to a cooler place and cooled down with fluid and wet cloths.
Construction worker Chuck Trautman, 54, of Pittsburgh, spends his days outdoors working with a blow torch and wearing heavy protective gear.
"When you're burning with that torch, it makes it twice as hot," he said. "But you've just got to deal with it."
Technology delivered a blessing for a 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?"