Broiling temperatures in the 90s and beyond gripped large swaths of the country Monday, sending people scrambling for the shade and prompting officials to open air-conditioned buildings and take to the streets to rescue the homeless and elderly.
On the streets of New York, a spot in the shade competed with a parking space as a valuable commodity. Men and women made their way under narrow awnings, lounged under trees and took breaks beneath the umbrellas of hot dog stands.
“Any walking around today and you are just burning up,” said Elia Escuerdo, 37, from the Bronx. “I’m giving up. I had a doctor’s appointment, but I’m just going home to sit near my air conditioner.”
The temperature reached 94 in the city, with a heat index — meaning the combined effects of heat and humidity — of 99.
The heat may have caused a New York subway train to lose power, stranding commuters for about 2½ hours. About 70 people had to be evacuated. Transit spokesman Charles Seaton said the power loss may have been caused when the “third rail” — which powers the train — buckled.
In Illinois, state officials made more than 130 office buildings available as cooling centers. Detroit cranked up the air conditioning in 11 of its libraries and invited the public to take refuge from the heat. In Kentucky, Louisville officials offered free fans or air conditioners to those in immediate need.
Tragedies in Ark., Ind.
Arkansas authorities reported one heat-related death but did not release any details. On Saturday, a 3-year-old boy died in South Bend, Ind., after apparently locking himself inside a car in 90-degree heat, relatives and neighbors said.
Fierce heat blanketed the nation from California to the Northeast. Scores of communities reported temperatures of more than 100. Redding, Calif., about 160 miles north of Sacramento, reached 110 degrees. Parts of Oklahoma hit 109.
The Northeast could get a break starting Tuesday night, with scattered showers and thunderstorms expected for parts of the region, but the heat was likely to persist in the southern Plains until Friday, according to the National Weather Service.
At the nonprofit Bishop Sullivan Center in Kansas City, Mo., officials passed out window air conditioners to the elderly.
“It’s just oppressive some of the houses you walk into,” said center director Tom Turner. He recalled one woman who was “just dripping with sweat. I thought she had been doing yard work or something, but her house was just that hot.”
In Cleveland, Tony Godel was already sweating through his brown T-shirt by 10 a.m. Monday as he worked on a remodeling project at a hotel in Cleveland. He planned to drink a lot of water.
“You get used to it after a while,” Godel said. “You know what you’re getting into. You’re paid to deal with it.”
The heat pushed power consumption to a record in some states, and calls also went out for electricity conservation.
PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for all or part of 13 states and the District of Columbia, asked people to reduce usage, especially between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.
The Philadelphia Corporation for Aging set up a telephone “heatline,” with nurses available to answer questions about coping with the heat.
The city Health Department sent outreach workers to help the homeless and elderly, just as it does during bitterly cold weather. Managing Director Pedro Ramos said workers would help them avoid dehydration and find shelter.
In Chicago, the stifling weather prompted organizers of the Gay Games to deliver extra water and sports drinks to various events. Spokesman Kevin Boyer said organizers asked competitors to bring extra ice and fluids to their events.
Too hot to stand in line — in New York
In New York City, the record for the date was set in 1953, when Central Park recorded 100 degrees. On Monday, the mercury had reached 90 before noon.
The line at the Empire State Building was short — only 15 minutes to the top. In summer months, tourists wait more than two hours.
Annelisa Leite, 17, said she and a friend did not want to wait around in the heat to get a glimpse of the city from on high.
“We went to Macy’s instead,” said Leite, who was visiting from Brazil. “It was too hot to stand in line, even if the line was short.”
The federal government reported last week that the first half of 2006 was the warmest in the United States since record keeping began in 1895. The average temperature for the 48 contiguous United States from January through June was 51.8 degrees, or 3.4 degrees above average for the 20th century.