Heat wave turns deadly

Worst hot spell in 4 years is blamed for 4 recent deaths


The region's worst heat wave in four years burned into its seventh day yesterday, and authorities blamed four new deaths on the scorching weather.

Relentless sunshine drove temperatures to 100 degrees again, combining with stifling humidity to send Marylanders scurrying for whatever cool, dry shelter they could find.

This summer, 19 Marylanders have died from heat-related causes. The four new deaths were a 73-year-old woman in Harford County, along with a 78-year-old woman, an 81-year-old man and a 90-year-old man in Baltimore, said John B. Hammond, a spokesman for the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

All three of the city's heat victims suffered from heart disease and did not have air conditioning in the homes where they died, said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the city health commissioner. But he said heat-related deaths in the city are down sharply from last year, despite more 90-degree days.

The mercury at the Maryland Science Center in downtown Baltimore reached 101 degrees at 2:24 p.m., matching Tuesday's high.

The official high for Baltimore, at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, was 99 degrees at 2:45 p.m., just short of the 100-degree record for the date, set in 1955. It was the seventh-straight day at the airport with highs above 94 degrees.

The coming weekend promises relief, with highs only in the 80s. Until then, the state faces two more days in the broiler as the massive high-pressure system that delivered all this misery continues its slow drift eastward.

"Unfortunately, it's still going to be a strain on the power grid. People are still going to be running their AC pretty high. We can't put it on the back burner yet," said National Weather Service meteorologist John Darnley, at the Sterling, Va., forecast office.

Today's high will once again nudge the 100-degree mark, forecasters said. By tomorrow, a weak cold front should drop the daytime highs to about 90.

But the real break should arrive Saturday and Sunday, when a weak cold front slides in and holds temperatures below 90. The average high for this time of year at BWI is 87 degrees.

BGE customers broke the company's electric consumption record yesterday for the second day in a row, drawing 7,170 megawatts of juice, said spokeswoman Linda Foy. That was a 1 percent jump over the prior record, set Tuesday.

The utility blamed heat-stressed transmission equipment for outages that affected an average of 10,000 customers a day this week - about double that seen on more typical summer days.

"Excessive heat warnings" were posted yesterday up and down the East Coast, from Savannah, Ga., north to Cape Cod, Mass., including all of Maryland from Washington County eastward.

The warnings of excessive heat were set to expire at 6 p.m. today. The approach of cooler weather will be welcome news to the 246 people who visited the city's cooling centers yesterday - more than twice Monday's count.

Housing officials brought water to residents of the Alcott Place Apartments in the 2700 block of Keyworth Ave., where the air conditioning failed for several hours, deputy housing director Reggie Scriber said.

Department spokesman David Tillman said Code Red "outreach teams" were going door to door in West Baltimore yesterday, checking on vulnerable seniors and shut-ins known to the health department.

Others were canvassing the neighborhoods, finding seniors who needed fans, water or other assistance.

"It's an informal effort, but every bit helps," Tillman said.

At the same time, case workers with the city's Commission on Aging and Retirement Education telephoned close to 400 frail, isolated or at-risk seniors, and received 10 requests for help.

The city has also made 28,000 automated phone calls in the past two days, advising the elderly on how to cope with the heat or to call 311 if they need help.

"We found out many seniors are not going to come to those cooling centers. ... The mayor has been directing us to reach out ... and bring assistance to them," said John P. Stewart, the department's executive director.

The efforts appeared to be paying off. Although there have been only a few more 90-degree days this summer than last, there have been many more heat-related ambulance runs and far fewer deaths, according to Sharfstein.

This summer, city ambulances have transported 56 patients with illnesses recorded as heat-related, compared with just 30 by this time last year, he added.

But the state medical examiner has judged only six city deaths to be heat-related. That compares with 16 at this time last year.

Elsewhere, city residents coped the best they could.

At Schneider's Paint and Hardware in Roland Park, Jeff Pratt kept cool the same way his father and grandfather did in the same store - with fans. A metal oscillating model nodded back and forth on a shelf behind the cash register, and three other fans blew behind Pratt, keeping the small shop surprisingly cool.

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