With Baltimore headed for a second straight day of triple-digit temperatures, health authorities ordered that all residents be moved from a Baltimore nursing home plagued with air conditioning problems.
The 150 residents of Ravenwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center on West Franklin Street are being transported to new locations, said David Paulson, communications director for Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
About 40 residents were moved Tuesday — after a resident called 911 to report stifling temperatures — but conditions did not improve markedly, so officials called for the broader relocation in the pre-dawn hours Wednesday. The cooling system at the 190-bed nursing home hadn't worked since Friday, officials said.
Officials at the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the state would investigate the facility because of its failure to voluntarily report problems with the air conditioning. Inspectors would remain on-site 24 hours a day until the problem is solved.
"The equipment failure could easily have put clients at risk," Paulson said, describing conditions inside the facility as "unsuitable" and "irresponsible."
Today's afternoon high is predicted to reach 100 degrees again. Real relief will have to wait for the weekend, when temperatures are expected to hold in the 80s.
Cooling systems were struggling from Virginia to Quebec on Tuesday as temperatures soared. Triple-digit readings were reported in New York City, Philadelphia, Washington and Richmond, Va.
In the Mid-Atlantic, it was so hot that even machines had to slow down. Transportation officials cut the speed of commuter trains in suburban Washington when the tracks got too hot, because extreme heat can cause welded rails to bend under pressure. The state's MARC commuter rail system also reported "major" disruptions, including heat-related delays of 30 minutes or more during the evening commute because of switching and signaling problems.
The heat closed summer school for thousands of Baltimore-area students, but pushed officials to extend city pool hours. Health authorities opened neighborhood cooling centers, and utility officials ordered rotating shutdowns of residential air conditioners.
At the Ravenwood nursing home, no serious health problems were reported among residents, but a doctor was still on-site Tuesday afternoon conducting medical assessments.
"The situation easily could have become a catastrophe," said Robert Maloney, spokesman for the Baltimore Office of Emergency Management.
Cindie Pittman of Ravenwood's parent company said it was unaware of the problems until Tuesday. "As soon as we were aware of the problem, we got on it and got it fixed," said Pittman, chief financial officer at Foundation Health Services, the Baton Rouge, La., company that owns the nursing home.
However, Paulson said only one of four compressors was working Tuesday, and at least two dozen temporary units will be needed until repairs are made.
The 105-degree reading at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport was the hottest in Baltimore in 27 years, and was tied for the highest reading ever at the airport, on Aug. 20, 1983.
The city's all-time record high is 107 degrees, set downtown on July 10, 1936.
The National Weather Service warned that dangerous heat will persist for at least one more day, and humidity will rise. Forecasters posted heat advisories for most of Maryland through 11 p.m. today.
The heat and strong sunshine combined with motor vehicle exhaust to produce unhealthy air pollution throughout the region. State environmental officials declared a Code Red air quality alert and urged everyone to avoid strenuous activity and outdoor exercise.
And in Baltimore, the heat triggered another Code Red Heat Alert. Health authorities opened cooling centers across the city and urged residents to check on anyone who might be struggling to cope with the oppressive weather.
"What we'd like to see is for all citizens to check on their family, friends and especially the elderly at least twice a day until the heat passes," said Dr. Anne Bailowitz, chief medical officer for the Baltimore Health Department. She urged residents who could to "stay home if you have cool air and water, and if you don't, get to a cooling center."
There is no air conditioning at all in half the schools in Baltimore, and that forced school officials to cancel summer school classes through Wednesday.
Without cooling, the schools are "like a furnace," said Keith Scroggins, chief operating officer for the city schools. "As much as we would like all these programs to continue, we have to look at the safety of the children and the staff."