Deadly Heat Wave Paralyzes Parts of the United States

WASHINGTON, DC, July 26, 2006 (ENS) - Searing temperatures are proving deadly across the United States. California authorities are investigating 38 deaths blamed on the heat, mostly in the Central Valley area, where the temperatures peaked at 115 degrees over the weekend.

"The state is experiencing a heat event unprecedented in the past 57 years," said Joe Desmond, undersecretary of energy affairs with the California Resources Agency. "Temperatures are climbing well into the triple digits - even in milder areas along the coast. All those air conditioners running to keep up with the heat are causing record-breaking demands for electricity in the afternoons," said Desmond.

The California Independent System Operator Corporation (California ISO) issued a Stage One Emergency on Tuesday as more people turned on their air conditioners in the scorching heat, and mobbed the cool air conditioned shopping malls.


California ISO control room operators need to access the status of the transmission system at all times. A giant map board in the California ISO Control Room gives an instant overview of where electrons are flowing. (Photo courtesy California ISO)
The California ISO is the nonprofit corporation that operates the majority of California’s high-voltage wholesale power grid. Balancing the demand for electricity with an equal supply of megawatts, the ISO is the link between power plants and the utilities that serve more than 30 million consumers.

California utilities on Monday stopped supplies of about 850 megawatts and conservation saved 1,400 megawatts more, said Yakout Mansour, ISO chief executive.

Equipment failures caused by the demand for power led to blackouts for about 140,000 households and businesses in Greater Los Angeles on Sunday. But due to conservation and power curtailments, rolling blackouts were avoided on Monday in California.

As weather forecasters predict a break in the heat wave starting today, the California ISO continues to deal with record electricity usage, with three new records being set within the last week - Monday, July 25 with 50,270 megawatts, Friday, July 21 with 49,036 megawatts, and Monday, July 17 with 46,561 megawatts.

The California ISO is asking all electricity customers to conserve electricity as much as possible to avoid more rolling blackouts.

When home, set the thermostat at 82 degrees or higher as long as health conditions permit, and turn it off when out, the power operator says. Avoid using unnecessary lights and appliances, and turn off the pool pump and avoid outdoor watering during peak periods.

Desmond said California has added 5,000 megawatts of new electricity from new power plants built since 2003. "We are relying on more renewable power, and have plans to add solar power to a million new homes that will produce valuable electricity, especially on these hot summer days." Finally, he said, "We have invested heavily in infrastructure to improve our ability to transmit and distribute electricity."

St. Louis

A view of the arch from East St. Louis (Photo courtesy Catisha)
In St. Louis, Missouri and in Illinois, just over 201,000 homes and businesses still had no power Tuesday after thunderstorms devastated the system last week. Ameren Corp and crews from 13 states are working round the clock to recover.

No electricity means no air conditioners as temperatures soared above 100 degrees. Four deaths in the area have been blamed on the storms or the heat.

More than 500,000 Missouri and Illinois homes and businesses went dark when the storms hit last week. Some 4,000 utility workers from as far away as Arizona have been working around the clock to restore service.

Missouri Governor Matt Blunt has issued a third executive order to help communities in the St. Louis region and other communities to clean up damage caused by the violent storm that swept through the area last Wednesday.

Blunt's executive order will allow the director of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR) to grant waivers to help expedite recovery efforts. Blunt issued two executive orders late last week declaring a state of emergency in the St. Louis region and mobilizing the Missouri National Guard to help relocate vulnerable citizens and assist with debris removal.

"As we continue to help provide relief to citizens and communities in need through the Missouri National Guard and several state agencies, this order will help those communities dispose of debris quickly and efficiently," Blunt said. "We will continue to look for ways to help return life in the St. Louis region and in other communities back to normal after this fierce storm."

In New York City, 4,000 people are going on 10 days in a row without power in Queens due to the heat wave and violent storms on July 18 that knocked power out to the borough.

Business owners say the blackout has cost them tens of thousands of dollars because they have had to throw out food. The Con Edison power company is offering $7,000 compensation to businesses and $350 to individuals.

But ConEd is being criticized by the state's governor. "You can understand an occasional failure but you can't understand a week later, ten days later, still not having the people back on line," said New York Governor George Pataki, who promises an investigation.


New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg briefs reporters Monday about the power outage in Queens. (Photo courtesy Office of the Mayor)
By contrast New York City Mayor Michael Bloomfield defends the power company. "Con Ed, in all fairness, has done a good job, and their system has stood up very well," Bloomberg said.

ConEd today reported that customers in the Long Island City area of Queens who lost electric service have been restored.

Of the 25,000 customers in the Long Island City, Sunnyside, Woodside, Hunters Point, and Astoria neighborhoods of Queens who lost power, nearly all but 4,000 have the lights back on again. The company said some restored customers may experience lower than normal voltage conditions or sporadic outages as crews reinforce the area’s power cable system.

More than 1,400 ConEd crews have worked around the clock since the outage occurred, inspecting manholes, removing damaged wires, splicing in new wires, and replacing transformers.

"We want to thank our residential and commercial customers for their response to our appeals for conservation," ConEd said in a statement. "We have also reached out to the business community to help further reduce power use in the area."

The New York Police Department has deployed hundreds of additional police officers and traffic agents in the areas that remain without power.

The Bowery Bay Wastewater Treatment Plant remains on the grid for power and is functioning normally.

The Mayor’s Community Assistance Unit (CAU) is operating five commuter vans in the Sunnyside and Woodside neighborhoods, handing out bottled water and food reimbursement forms. On Sunday, CAU distributed more than 2,000 bottles of waters from these vans. CAU is also organizing a volunteer effort in the area to staff vans and hand out food and water with the American Red Cross on bus routes.