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California heat wave blamed in up to 90 deaths

California coroners’ offices said the number of deaths possibly connected to the state's brutal heat wave has climbed to 90.
Heat Wave Brings Triple Digit Temperatures To Southern California
Dairy cows are showered with water from a sprinkler as they stand out in the open at the Zylstra Dairy Farm in Turlock, Calif. on Wednesday. The intense heat has killed thousands of farm animals.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Corpses piled up at the morgue Thursday, and aid workers went door-to-door, checking in on elderly people in hopes of keeping the death toll from California’s 12-day heat wave from rising.

California coroners’ offices said the number of deaths possibly connected to the heat wave climbed to 90.

In Fresno County’s morgue, the walk-in freezer was stuffed with bodies, with some piled on top of others, said Coroner Loralee Cervantes. With limited air conditioning, employees worked in sweltering heat as they investigated at least 22 possible heat-related deaths.

“It’s never been like this in my years here,” Cervantes said. “This is really tragic.”

The mercury dropped slightly in some areas, with Sacramento expected to get its first double-digit high in 12 days, but Fresno and Bakersfield were expected to hit 109.

In Stanislaus County, which includes Modesto, officials were investigating whether sizzling temperatures were responsible for 20 deaths. Salvation Army workers walked door-to-door to check on elderly and other vulnerable residents.

Kern County was investigating eight possibly heat-related deaths. Among the victims were two Bakersfield brothers who were found dead in their beds in a home without air conditioning.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced that California was making 75 cooling centers available to residents at fairgrounds statewide. Health officials also were contacting nursing homes to make sure they had evacuation plans in place in case their air conditioning failed, he said.

Deadly for livestock
State Sen. Dean Florez called on Schwarzenegger to declare a state of emergency in the Central Valley, noting that residents — and hundreds of cows — were dying each day.

“Record-breaking heat requires a record-breaking response,” Florez said. “The conditions, staying this hot for this long, are simply too much for the most vulnerable residents.”

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.

Cattle in danger
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.”

St. Louis, Queens without power
The St. Louis area and the New York City borough of Queens, troubled by long-running blackouts, were slowly returning to normal Thursday after more than a week after weather-related power outages.

About 46,000 homes and businesses in the St. Louis area remained without power on Thursday 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.