Record-breaking heat and oppressive humidity made people across the eastern half of the country miserable Wednesday and sent tourists in the nation's capital scrambling for relief in the cool marble halls of Capitol Hill.
Others forced to work outdoors guzzled icy drinks to cope with the heat wave that has sent temperatures soaring over 100 across the East and parts of the Midwest.
"This is unbelievable," said Bob Garner, a tourist from Atlanta who retreated with his family into the air-conditioned comfort of the Capitol. "They get the hottest days of the year while we're here."
By late afternoon, the temperature at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport had risen to 99, with a heat index of 106. It was even hotter on the steaming pavement downtown. In New York, the temperature rose to 101 at LaGuardia Airport and 96 in Central Park. Philadelphia and Baltimore climbed into the upper 90s.
At the Capitol, tourists filled water bottles at drinking fountains and doused themselves. Others drenched their baseball caps before putting them on.
At the Library of Congress daycare center, children stayed inside because it was deemed too hot to swim. Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs cut his players a break by push back their 4 p.m. practice session to 7 p.m.
‘It’s unbearable, it’s oppressive’
"It's unbearable, it's oppressive," said Joy Haber, 44, who canceled a trip from Long Island into Manhattan because of the stifling weather. Her 13-year-old son, Sean, skipped day camp when his bus arrived with a malfunctioning air conditioner.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the city was fortunate that no fatalities were linked to the brutal weather. Subway riders were in for a sweltering commute — the temperature was about 111 at a Pennsylvania Station platform.
The city's electric utility, Con Edison, set its second record in two days for peak electricity demand, surpassing the level from a day earlier. The Long Island Power Authority also set a record.
The Dixie Chicks postponed their Wednesday night show at the outdoor Jones Beach Theater on Long Island because of the scorching heat.
In Philadelphia, concrete worker Bob Ferguson was building walls 32 feet below street level. "Down in that hole, there's no air," said Ferguson, who wore the mandatory hard hat, long sleeves, long pants and work boots.
Bicycle messenger Gravett Dhuja tried to look at the bright side as he rested near a Capitol Hill office building: "It's been hot, but rain is a lot worse for us."
Passing out fans
Authorities in the capital were prepared to go door to door to get people to public cooling centers, said Mark Brown, deputy director of the D.C. Emergency Management Agency. The city also passed out fans to low-income residents.
The same heat wave was blamed for as many as 164 deaths last week in California.
In Kentucky, an 18-month-old boy was found dead Wednesday inside a van about 60 miles northeast of Lexington. The vehicle's doors were locked, and the boy's mother had to break a window to get to the child, authorities said.
Norfolk Naval Station in Virginia hoisted black flags at gymnasiums and port operations to caution sailors against doing strenuous exercise outdoors.
In Boston, animals at the Franklin Park Zoo were kept cool with sprinklers and frozen treats. The African wild dogs and lions got frozen blood; the primates received frozen fruit juice.
"It's a matter of taste, I guess," zoo President John Linehan said.
Boston authorities awaited autopsy results on a pregnant woman who died Saturday after collapsing at a sweltering Red Sox game. Denise Quickenton, 29, suffered an apparent heart attack after sitting in sunny bleacher seats where the temperatures was at least 90 degrees, authorities said. She was seven months pregnant, but a medical team was able to deliver her 4-pound infant at a hospital.
Some Washington tourists pressed on with their plans, gulping bottled water and fanning themselves with brochures outside such landmarks such as Union Station and the Washington Monument.
"The humidity is so bad — not like in Spain," said Carlos Mulas, 56, of Madrid, before boarding a tour bus. "But Washington is so beautiful. We expect to enjoy it."
Several members of tourist Gregg Selewski's extended family spent their nights in a recreational vehicle parked at a campground in Greenbelt, Md. They vowed to see everything, despite the heat.
"This is what we came to do," said Selewski, 13, of Canton, Mich.