JULIANA BARBASSA Associated Press Writer
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) There have been so many deaths from California’s lingering heat wave that authorities in one county began stacking bodies two to a gurney. Twenty people have died in Fresno County alone, about a quarter of the statewide toll of 81 deaths attributed to the heat. Coroner Loralee Cervantes said Wednesday that decomposition was making the causes of death difficult to determine and the office was running out of space. Outside, the temperature on Wednesday approached 110 degrees. Forecasters say a slow cooling trend is under way in the region, with highs expected to drop a few more degrees by the weekend. “We’re seeing some relief coming, if you can call 105 relief,” said National Weather Service forecaster Jim Dudley. “We’re inching away from this superhot air mass we’ve had over us, though it’s tricky. ... It’s hard to get those things to move.” But across the state, the damage has been done, from fruit and nuts scorched on the vine to a power grid battered by the constant demand for electricity. Record electricity usage on Monday and Tuesday prompted officials to declare an emergency and warn of possible involuntary rolling blackouts. While the power supply remained adequate Wednesday, the hot weather, coupled with increased usage, has blown out transformers around the state. The St. Louis area and the New York City borough of Queens, also troubled by long-running blackouts, were slowly returning to normal today after more than a week after weather-Related power outages.
About 46,000 homes and businesses in the St. Louis area remained without power this morning, down from more than half a million after storms knocked out power last week, according to Ameren Corp. Missouri officials said nine deaths had been blamed on the heat and storms. A utility worker was also killed after touching downed power lines, and a man died Wednesday from burns while he tried to fix a generator at home that lost power. In Queens, the last the homes affected by a 10-day outage finally had power, but 60,000 residents in the borough of Staten Island were left in the dark for up to six hours Wednesday. Consolidated Edison blamed that problem on downed overhead cables. Other states also attributed more deaths to heat. Oklahoma officials said two people whose homes lacked air conditioners were the latest victims there, bringing to 10 the number of heat-related deaths since July 13. California’s inland valleys have registered some of the highest temperatures during the heat wave, with highs of around 115 and lows of about 90 degrees. Actress Lindsay Lohan, 20, was overcome by the heat while filming a movie in 105-degree weather on Tuesday and treated at a hospital for overheating and dehydration, publicist Leslie Sloan Zelnick told “The Insider” entertainment show. Farmers, meanwhile, have been rushing workers to their sun-baked crops well before dawn so they don’t have to work through afternoon heat. Even with fans and misting to keep cattle cool, experts estimate as much as 2 percent of the state’s dairy herd may die. The surviving cattle are producing less dairy production in the state, No. 1 in the nation, was down as much as 15 percent in the past few days, according to the California Farm Bureau. It’s too early to say what percentage of California crops may be lost. Tomatoes being grown for salsa, ketchup and pasta sauces were found split in the fields, which will make them hard to sell. The heat might also mean a slightly smaller harvest of wine grapes, said Karen Ross, president of the California Association of Winegrape Growers. When temperatures rise, vines stop growing to conserve water. “They’re just like people,” she said. “They kind of shut down when it gets this hot.”