- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 25, 2006

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — The death toll from a 100-plus-degree heat wave continued rising yesterday as utilities renewed their pleas for energy conservation to avoid rolling blackouts.

Slightly cooler temperatures were expected in California, though the misery index remained high: Temperatures in the Central Valley ranged from 100 to 105 yesterday, compared with 110 to 115 in previous days, the National Weather Service said.

Authorities were investigating at least 34 deaths possibly caused by the heat, most of them in the steamy Central Valley. Officials said most of the victims were elderly.

Thousands of farm animals also were dying in the heat, officials said.

In St. Louis, where more than 150,000 customers have been suffering through a weeklong heat wave without electricity, one utility worker was fatally shocked yesterday after stepping on a downed power line that had been obscured by branches, and another suffered electrical burns, utility Ameren Corps said.

Thousands of New Yorkers remained without power in the ninth day of a blackout, with no clear estimate of when all the services might be restored.

The worst of the heat this week has been in the West, where California air conditioners drove electricity use to 50,270 megawatts on Monday — a state record. Cutbacks by government agencies and businesses helped avoid rolling blackouts, but energy officials expected more strain on the system.

“We still have our guard up,” said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid.

ISO officials warned that they were likely to issue another “stage 1” emergency, calling upon consumers to conserve electricity. An elevated “stage 2” emergency, where businesses voluntarily reduce power use in exchange for lower rates, also was possible.

Utilities in St. Louis and New York were still laboring to restore power to thousands of customers whose electricity was knocked out last week by storms and equipment failures.

About 158,000 homes and businesses in the St. Louis area remained without electricity yesterday, compared with the more than a half-million blacked out by storms last Wednesday and Friday. Five deaths were linked to the storms and heat, including that of the utility worker.

In New York, the utility worked round-the-clock to restore its service — and its image.

Consolidated Edison Co. said yesterday that about 1,000 customers in Queens remained without electricity, an improvement from the about 25,000 at the height of the blackout but not enough to quell public anger. Officials have estimated that there are four residents per customer, meaning 100,000 people might have been affected.

In Northern California, an estimated 25,000 customers remained blacked out yesterday, compared with 119,000 on Monday, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. reported.

The heat also has been tough on farmers, causing thousands of livestock deaths, state agriculture officials said. Milk production in California, the nation’s No. 1 dairy state, is down by as much as 15 percent because of the heat, the California Farm Bureau Federation said.

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