- The Washington Times - Monday, July 31, 2006

CHICAGO (AP) — The blowtorch heat that blistered California last week gripped the Midwest yesterday, prompting communities to open air-conditioned buildings to the public and endangering millions of people with outdoor jobs — including NFL players in training camp.

Temperatures throughout the Midwest and Plains were expected to reach at least 100 degrees. Forecasters said the heat index, a measure of temperature plus humidity, could climb as high as 110 in some places. The National Weather Service issued heat warnings for Chicago; Cincinnati; Dayton, Ohio; and Tulsa, Okla.

The Midwest could get some relief by tomorrow, but the worst of the heat was expected to drift into the Northeast today, bringing scorching temperatures to Boston, New York and Washington, D.C.

NFL teams closely monitored players for signs of heat-related illness. The heat prompted the Chicago Bears to cancel morning practice at training camp in Bourbonnais, Ill. On Sunday, the Tennessee Titans let defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth leave practice because of dizziness.

Chicago resident Tony Tesfay, 43, left his basement room at a halfway house first thing yesterday and rode his bicycle to one of the city’s cooling centers — air-conditioned recreation centers and other buildings that were opened to the public to prevent a repeat of 1995, when a heat wave killed 700 people in Chicago.

“I was pedaling slow, not too hard, so I could keep hydrated,” he said. “It took me about 15 minutes. It wasn’t too bad.”

In California, the sweltering heat that punished the state for two weeks subsided, but the number of confirmed or suspected heat-related deaths climbed to 163 as county coroners worked through a backlog of cases.

Cities across the Midwest urged neighbors to check on the elderly and disabled. Utilities were expected to set records for power usage and asked customers to conserve electricity to prevent blackouts.

In Chicago, officials made available a special telephone line to request checks on vulnerable neighbors and friends. The Department of Human Services and police responded to nearly 50 such requests by early yesterday. The city’s Department of Aging also telephoned more than 300 senior citizens to offer help, such as rides to cooling centers.

In Wisconsin, sheriff’s deputies put a high priority on responding to calls about disabled vehicles.

“When it’s 100 degrees and you’ve got kids in the car, that’s not good,” said Waukesha County Sheriff’s Lt. Thom Moerman.

In Nebraska, high temperatures, a drought and strong winds combined to feed enormous wildfires near the panhandle town of Harrison.

Chicagoan Danita Winfield, who does not have air conditioning in her apartment, planned to visit the city’s 24-hour cooling station.

In the meantime, she said, “I sit out in the front of the complex for a while until I really get tired, then I go in the house and make a pallet on the floor because we do have a little breeze that comes through the window.”

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