100 It's Hot!

Heat makes it tough to keep your cool

People try to keep cool, with varying degrees of success

August 02, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Yesterday was so hot that peaches turned to mush, adults begged to be squirted with garden hoses and a sanitation worker dreaded collecting the garbage from Canton's crab houses.

A sweltering muggy mass of air is lolling over the state, with no plans to move on until Friday. At Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, the temperature hit 98 degrees yesterday, just a notch away from 1933's record of 99 degrees. For the first time in four years, the temperature reached 100 at the Maryland Science Center. The heat index, the combined effect of heat and humidity, peaked at 108.

Meteorologists expect temperatures to hit 100 throughout much of the state again today, prompting health officials to warn residents to drink plenty of water, stay inside during peak heat hours and check on elderly or sick relatives and neighbors.

This summer, the heat has killed 15 people in Maryland. No heat deaths were reported yesterday, although several people were admitted to hospitals with heat-related complaints.

"The health risks get worse," said city Health Commissioner Dr. Joshua Sharfstein. "When the heat is unremitting, the stress on the body gets greater. We'll see more problems at the end of the heat wave."

Several counties and the city have opened cooling centers where people can chill in air conditioning, drink cold water and pick up ice. In the city, 94 people visited the centers yesterday and seven picked up free fans, a housing official said.

One record was broken yesterday - energy consumption. BGE's 1.2 million customers used 7,099 megawatts of energy between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., beating a 2005 record by 50 megawatts. In contrast, on a typical summer day, 5,500 megawatts are used in an hour, BGE spokeswoman Linda Foy said.

"It takes your breath," said maintenance worker Jeanine Williams, rapping her chest with her fist. After a scorching morning cleaning apartments and alleys in Mount Vernon, Williams stood on St. Paul Street squirting dirt off marble steps with a hose.

"Everybody walks by and says, `Can you wet me?'" Williams said. A man borrowed the hose from her and walked up and down the street spraying cold water in the air so it rained down on his head.

"You know what a dog feels like," Williams said. "When I come out of the heat, my chest hurts and I just ache. After I get in the tub with cold water for a while, I start to feel like myself."

Throughout the state, people flocked to malls and swimming pools to cool down. Workers leaving air-conditioned office buildings winced as they stepped outside into the steamy air. People without air conditioning plunked themselves in front of fans or dragged chairs out in front of their homes to catch a measly breeze.

Some summer school students had to swelter through both exams and the heat. Norman Handy Jr. was trying to teach algebra to students at Frederick Douglass High School in a classroom without air conditioning. But it was no use.

"I'm sitting there going over quadratic equations, and these kids are passing out," Handy said.

System spokeswoman Edie House said officials try to put summer programs in the school buildings with air conditioning whenever possible. At Douglass, though, only a fraction of classrooms are air-conditioned. At other schools, such as Alexander Hamilton Elementary, teachers reported that the air conditioning broke down this week.

House said that all schools have fans, and that the system closes schools during the summer when air conditioning breaks and the windows won't open.

Many adults had no choice but to suffer through the heat yesterday as they worked outside.

Postal worker Sam Wallace walked the streets of Greektown wearing a mesh safari hat with a paper towel tucked under the brim and a white napkin draped over his neck. After 13 years working this route, he knows how to handle the heat.

Wallace gingerly opened a searing screen door on which a painted swan floated in a blue pool, explaining that silver metal doors get hotter than black metal. He tucked the mail in the slot, then trudged down the steps, moving onto the next metal door. "I just do what I need to do and keep on going," he said.

Up the street, Terrance Ward, an employee with Waste Management, tugged a green trash bin out from behind a restaurant

"Oooh ooh, like something dead," said Ward, describing the scent of the garbage truck in the heat. "It stinks bad, but I'm used to it. You got to have a strong stomach." He said he dreaded emptying the crab-stuffed trash bins of Canton's restaurants.

Inside his steaming taco truck on the 200 block of Broadway Street, Ricardo Palomino said a few choice words in Spanish as he tried to light his gas stove.

"Just wait till he gets that stove lit, then it will be really hot in here," said his wife, Guadalupe Arenas, as she spooned salsa into plastic cups. The couple said that Baltimore's heat was worse than the weather in their native Mexico because of the humidity here.

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