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Searing heat keeps grip on Calif.

3 deaths reported; forecasters predict midweek relief

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Californians endured more sweltering heat yesterday after triple-digit temperatures smashed records across the state, strained air conditioners, and prompted scattered power failures over the weekend.

Meanwhile, temperatures moderated in St. Louis and New York, but thousands of residents remained without power through the weekend after prolonged outages there.

In California, no relief was expected until at least midweek from a weather front that sent temperatures soaring even along the normally cool coast and brought Midwest-style humidity into the arid Central Valley.

Records were set or tied Saturday at all five of the National Weather Service's recording locations in the Central Valley: 109 degrees in Sacramento, 111 in Redding, and 112 in Red Bluff, Stockton, and Modesto.

Yesterday's temperatures reached 99 degrees in downtown Los Angeles and 115 degrees in nearby Woodland Hills, where the mercury hit a record-setting 119 degrees Saturday.

The California power grid manager warned that the state might declare an emergency for the second-straight day due to soaring electricity use.

The heat was blamed yesterday for at least three deaths in Northern California, including a resident at a nursing home in Stockton.

More than 100 patients were evacuated from the Beverly Healthcare Center after the nursing home's air conditioning gave out. One patient died, and another was hospitalized in critical condition. Police said they were investigating the deaths.

The nursing home's phone was busy and a call to Beverly Healthcare's corporate headquarters in Fort Smith, Ark., was not returned.

In Modesto, a patient at Doctors Medical Center died Saturday of heart failure apparently caused by the heat after being admitted with a 106-degree temperature, hospital officials said.

Two others people were hospitalized with 108-degree temperatures, including one who remained in critical condition yesterday.

Investigators believe Bakersfield gardener Joaquin Ramirez, 38, may have died of heat stroke after collapsing on the job late Wednesday.

The Kern County coroner's office was investigating whether scorching temperatures were responsible for four deaths in the county over the past two weeks.

State electricity officials warned of possible power emergencies if demand remained high and a power plant that went off-line Saturday isn't fixed.

The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state's power grid, isn't predicting deliberate rolling blackouts of the sort that darkened the state during the shortages of 2000 and 2001.

But localized outages in the Los Angeles, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Francisco Bay areas were attributed to high demand that overloaded equipment. More than 90,000 customers in the Bay Area were without power early yesterday, said PG&E spokeswoman Jana Schuering.

Heat waves left much of the country sweltering last week, with temperatures soaring into the upper 90s and higher from coast to coast. At least 29 heat-related deaths were reported in Oklahoma, Illinois, Kansas, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arkansas, Indiana, South Dakota, and Tennessee.

In St. Louis yesterday, more than 100 dump trucks rolled through city streets collecting mangled trees and branches left behind by last week's powerful thunderstorms that cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Tons of debris reached up to 25-feet high at one of three city drop-off points, parks officials said. Members of the Missouri Army National Guard are assisting with the cleanup.

``It's hard to believe your eyes when you are looking at something this massive," St. Louis Parks Director Gary Bass said.

About 290,000 homes and businesses here were still without power yesterday, down from the more than a half-million homes and businesses powerless last week while temperatures soared into triple digits. Four deaths in the region have been attributed to the storms or heat.

A utility company spokeswoman said it could be at least four days before service is fully restored. The power company has been running television commercials asking for the city's patience and some 4,000 utility workers from as far away as Arizona are working around the clock to restore power.

The Missouri Health Department has called on all registered nurses and nursing assistants in the area to help. A crew of nurses arrived Saturday from Kansas City to work in St. Louis hospitals.

In New York, a group of political leaders yesterday urged Governor George Pataki to designate a section of the city suffering from a prolonged power failure a disaster area, making it eligible for federal aid.

``Anywhere else it would be," Representative Joe Crowley, Democrat of New York, said at a news conference in Queens, which officials often complain is overlooked. ``If this were an area of 100,000 people in upstate New York, the governor would have declared it a disaster area."

Bloomberg said electricity has been restored to 13,000 of an estimated 25,000 Consolidated Edison customers who lost power during last week's heat wave and that Con Ed workers were laboring to restore power to the rest.

Bloomberg said there was still no indication when all power would be reestablished, or why Queens suffered while the rest of the city did not. He said Con Ed promised a report within two weeks.

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