- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 30, 2002

Area residents sought refuge any way they could from stifling heat and humidity yesterday, when temperatures hit the upper 90s.

Some stood under the cool showers of D.C. fire hydrants that had been wrenched open by early afternoon. Others imprisoned themselves in their air conditioned offices and apartments.

Natural relief was expected later today, when a cold front is forecast to bring cooler, drier air to the region.

Receptionist Rita Dorsey said she saw a steady stream of heat-fleeing pedestrians flowing into a city-sponsored cooling center in the lobby of One Judiciary Square.

"It's terrible outside," Ms. Dorsey said.

Inside, she said, was a different story. "I get cold sitting here under the A.C. vent, so I go outside to warm up."

"They come in here, and they complain how hot it is because they have walked three or four blocks," she said.

For some, the oppressive heat was more than uncomfortable. D.C. Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said there were a number of heat-related emergency calls yesterday.

In one instance, an asthmatic woman working at an office on Rhode Island Avenue NE was taken to the hospital. Her case turned out not to be serious, he said.

Sunday night, the American Red Cross provided overnight shelter to some of the 1,000 residents evacuated from a Kensington, Md., apartment complex after a fire forced power and with it, air conditioning to the building to be cut off.

Residents were allowed back into the Rock Creek Terrace apartments at noon yesterday, said Chris Paladino, executive director of the Montgomery County chapter of the Red Cross.

Yesterday's heat was forecast to be a record-breaker, but the high of 96 degrees at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport fell short of this year's high of 99 degrees, recorded July 4.

The National Weather Service issued an "excessive heat warning," cautioning D.C.-area residents to avoid outdoor activities and retreat to air conditioned sanctuaries.

The heat index, which calculates temperature and humidity's combined effect, topped out at 110 degrees.

Julie Arthur, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service's forecasting office in Sterling, Va., said nighttime heat and humidity necessitated the warning.

"It is very stressful on the body when it can't recover at night," she said.

The heat warning lasts through tonight, when a cold front sinking south through the region will bring some relief.

Temperatures are forecast to remain near 90 degrees, but Miss Arthur said lower humidity was expected to make conditions more bearable.

Today's expected high is 95 degrees, with the heat index at 105.

Air quality was also a concern yesterday, as the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments declared yesterday a "code orange" day the second-worst category on its green-to-red scale of ground-level ozone concentration.

Joan Rohlfs, chairman of the council's air-quality planning department, explained that the warning meant pollution had reached "moderately unhealthy levels" and said sensitive groups, such as the elderly, children and those with respiratory illnesses should avoid exposure.

Air pollution was not forecast to reach "code red" levels yesterday, Miss Rohlfs said, so certain services, such as free Metrobus rides, were not in effect.

There have been four "code red" days so far this year.

Federal officials were investigating whether the high temperatures played a role in yesterday's train derailment just north of the District.

Rail officials said temperatures in the mid-90s may have caused the tracks to buckle.

The heat also took its toll yesterday on the emergency response crews that were on the scene of the derailment.

NTSB sent a team of investigators, and an expert said they would probably try to determine whether the heat had caused the track to buckle. Temperatures were in the mid-90s.

Carmody said the track is a continuous welded rail, and "heat can be a factor and cause a slight misshaping or buckling in the rail."

The train, the Capitol Limited en route from Chicago to the nation's capital with 173 passengers and crew members, jumped the tracks about 1:55 p.m. when it was 10 miles from its destination, authorities said.

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