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East sweltering in killer heat

22 deaths, power outages blamed on high temperatures

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Eden Fulton, 4, of Newport News, Va., runs head first into a fountain at Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk, Va. The park prepared for hot days with fountains just inside the main entrance.

Eden Fulton, 4, of Newport News, Va., runs head first into a fountain at Virginia Zoological Park in Norfolk, Va. The park prepared for hot days with fountains just inside the main entrance.

Mort Fryman, Associated Press

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Edward Landry came to this resort city to try to beat the heat. Instead, it was so hot he couldn't even wiggle his toes in the sand.

Landry, of Amarillo, Texas, joined hundreds of other vacationers lounging beneath giant umbrellas Thursday to escape a searing heat wave that finally showed signs of breaking after tormenting the East and Midwest for nearly a week.

"It's tolerable as long as you're around some water and the breeze is blowing somewhat and you can get wet," said Landry, 39, drinking bottled beer as his wife rubbed sunscreen on his back.

The heat wave left behind scattered power outages and at least 22 deaths. More than a dozen states, from Georgia to Connecticut, were still under heat warnings as temperatures rose into the 90s or higher. Virginia Beach reached a high of 99 degrees, but the humidity made it feel like 111.

The temperature climbed to record levels in several cities, including 97 in Bridgeport, Conn.; 98 in Islip, N.Y.; and 100 in Newark, N.J., and Baltimore, according to the National Weather Service.

Some relief was expected after nightfall, when temperatures were forecast to fall into the upper 80s, with drier air. Temperatures in Chicago and Detroit dropped on Thursday, and cooler air should arrive by Friday in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states.

Authorities have confirmed that heat played a role in at least 22 deaths in nine states since the scorching temperatures set in on Sunday. Heat was suspected in at least eight other deaths.

In Illinois, at least six heat-related deaths were confirmed this week in Cook County, and police believe another six deaths on Wednesday could be heat-related.

But the relatively few deaths in Chicago offered evidence that the city had learned from its experience in 1995, when a similar heat wave killed more than 700 people in four days, said Eric Klinenberg, who wrote "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago," after the 1995 heat wave.

"I would say Chicago has become a national leader for heat emergency planning," said Klinenberg, a New York University sociologist. He said there were electronic billboards on major roads, public service announcements throughout the day on local media and the city checked on thousands of vulnerable residents and provided transportation to cooling centers.

But Klinenberg said the heat wave that earlier left more than 160 people dead in California is evidence that many other communities are not prepared to do what it takes to protect residents.

"Most cities only take heat waves seriously when they are experiencing their own disaster first hand and usually the responsiveness comes too late," he said.

New York City reported its first heat-related death of the year, an unidentified man whose body was found in Brooklyn. Other deaths were under investigation.

In New Jersey, authorities in Newark confirmed that two elderly people found dead in their home Thursday had died because of the hot weather. Relatives told a television station that both had mental problems and kept their windows closed out of fear of intruders. The home had a fan, but no air conditioning.

In northern Indiana, heat killed an inmate at the mostly un-air-conditioned Indiana State Prison and contributed to the death of another, officials said Thursday.

In Michigan, the brutal temperatures may have caused the death of a 50-year-old man who was pouring concrete at a construction site, authorities said.

Four deaths were reported in Maryland, including three elderly victims who did not have air conditioning. In Pennsylvania, a 74-year-old custodian was found dead in bed, his heart disease aggravated by the heat. In Oklahoma, a 92-year-old man found near his car Tuesday died of heat-related causes.

Consolidated Edison, the utility that serves much of the New York metropolitan area, said underground electrical problems on Manhattan's East side left 22,400 people without power. On Long Island, 12,000 people were in the dark.

Thousands of customers in downtown Stamford, Conn., lost power after demand caused some underground lines to catch fire and put others at risk of extensive damage. Some businesses were evacuated.

In New York, the heat was not unusual for Iman Arbab, 57, a native of Sudan who sells newspapers from a crate outside Pennsylvania Station in Manhattan.

"For me, 100 degrees — it's normal," Arbab said Thursday.

But even he admitted he was getting a little fed up. "When you're young, you don't feel it," Arbab said. "When you get old, you feel it."

Contributing: Don Babwin, Desmond Butler .