- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 18, 2006

The sweltering heat that has driven tourists indoors and soaked dress shirts in sweat has claimed the lives of three Maryland residents, turned the District into a virtual frying pan and caused local officials to keep watch for heat-related illnesses.

Three persons have died of heat-related causes since Friday, Maryland health officials said yesterday.

The deaths occurred in Calvert, Carroll and Prince George’s counties, the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported.

The National Weather Service issued a Code Red heat advisory yesterday as the heat flirted with the 100-degree mark. The high temperature at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport was 97 degrees, the highest in the area yesterday and a degree higher than Monday. The heat index, which takes into account the effect of humidity, was 105.

Some relief is expected today from an approaching front that also raised the possibility of strong thunderstorms last night, the Weather Service said.

In the meantime, the heat prompted the opening of cooling centers across the region for those without air conditioning at home.

In Prince George’s County, a 73-year-old man was found Sunday by his wife in his car at a shopping center. The Calvert County death was a 54-year-old man found in his home Friday, and the Carroll County death was a 60-year-old man found outside of his home Sunday, said John Hammond, a spokesman for the state health department.

Adding to the weather concerns is the second tropical storm of the 2006 hurricane season looming off the North Carolina coast. With top sustained winds of 40 mph, a tropical depression officially became Tropical Storm Beryl at 4:55 p.m. yesterday, the National Hurricane Center said.

Early indications were that the system’s sustained wind wouldn’t reach 74 mph, the threshold for a hurricane, hurricane specialist Jamie Rhome said.

“We’re certainly not expecting anything major, a major hurricane or anything like that,” Mr. Rhome said.

Cheryl Kennedy of Philadelphia had just one word to describe the stagnant, sticky, downright dense heat that blanketed most of the nation the past few days.

“Insanity. Insanity,” she said yesterday.

After a long sip of her bottled water, Miss Kennedy added, “This is not fit for human beings. Without air conditioning, I don’t think many of us could last like this for too long.”

She and millions of Americans may have no choice — the heat wave that has gripped most of the nation showed few signs of abating and may persist in some regions until the weekend.

In the Washington area, hospital and emergency officials said the public had largely avoided any major health problems from the extreme heat that moved into the region in full force Monday.

In Prince George’s County, emergency officials reported only a slight increase in requests for help since Monday.

Mark Brady, spokesman for Prince George’s County fire department, said the county handled six emergency calls Saturday and Sunday that were thought to be related to the heat. They derived mostly from outdoor events such as a softball game and a family picnic.

Mr. Brady said the public has been adequately educated about the dangers of such extreme conditions.

“I think the media has done a great job of helping people know what to do,” Mr. Brady said.

In Fairfax County, there were sporadic reports of residents experiencing shortness of breath and other potentially heat-related illnesses. But officials insisted that the heat wasn’t causing any major problems.

“We’ve had several heat-related calls, but nothing in an inordinate amount,” Fairfax County fire department spokesman Dan Schmidt said. “People are drinking fluids and staying out of the heat.”

Despite the heat, widespread power outages have not been reported.

But the heat could put significant pressure on the electrical systems, said Bob Dobkins, a spokesman for Potomac Electric Power Co.

“It’s a perfect time” for power outages, he said. “But this week, we’ve been very fortunate, despite the conditions. Fortunately, we’re not seeing any problems, and the system is holding up well.”

PJM Interconnection, which operates the electric grid for all or part of 13 states and the District, did ask people to reduce usage, especially between 3 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Caroline Chon contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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