Heat Wave Hits Northeast With Record-Breaking Temperatures

As Americans struggle to stay cool, power companies brace for demand.

July 6, 2010, 6:11 PM

July 6, 2010— -- Across the country today, blistering, record-breaking temperatures left Americans struggling to keep cool.

From Boston to Louisville, Kentucky and Richmond, Virginia, to Washington, the temperatures were chokingly hot.

In New York's 103-degree heat, more than a dozen firefighters had to be rushed to the hospital after putting out a fire. Their heavy unfiroms proved too much to bear in the heat.

"This is the worst condition to fight fires in," one FDNY firefighter said.

In Washington, D.C., where thermometers popped at 100 degrees, even machines were forced to slow down. Officials cut the speed of commuter trains because the metal rail tracks got so hot, they were in danger of bending.

In Philadelphia, the heat was blamed for the death of an elderly woman who was found inside her home with the windows open in a tragically failed attempt to stay cool.

Of all the people working in the heat today, Philadelphian Saheed Dillard might have had it the worst. He pours searing asphalt for a living, today driving his steamroller in scorching 104-degree temperatures.

"I am riding basically on an oven," Dillard said.

To ensure that the 275-degree asphalt doesn't cool too quickly, the work always has to be done when it's hot out, but today was extreme. Every half hour, Dillard got a 10-minute break to cool down and drink water. He usually drinks nearly four gallons of water a day.

"It feels like you are sitting on a grill, and I am the hamburger or the hotdog," he said.

In Richmond, Virginia, temperatures surged into the triple digits for the second day in a row.

"You know it's going to be a hot day when at noon it was already 98 degrees," said WRIC-TV meteorologist Paul Milliken.

Citizens stayed cool at the Richmond Ice Zone, one of a couple of indoor ice skating rinks that were open for part of the day for free to help people get out of the heat.

The dangerously high temperatures are expected to last days, and utility companies are bracing to try to keep the power on as millions crank their air conditioning. Many companies have set up command centers to monitor electricity usage, which was expected to hit new highs.

In New York, alone, residents burned more than 13,000 megawatts of electricty at peak moments, enough to power 180 million 75-watt light bulbs all at once.

Keeping all that electricity flowing is a real challenge. Transformers blew around the East Coast last night, and there were more spotty power outages today.

New York City electric company Con Edison is asking customers to conserve energy, but some people need air conditioning is stay safe.

Electric fans cannot prevent people from suffering heat-related illness when temperatures climb into the high 90s, so doctors encourage people to spend at least a few hours a day in an air conditioned environment. It's particularly important during times when temperatures peak, between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

ABC News Chief Medical Editor Dr. Richard Besser contributed to this report.

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