July 25, 2006

Calif. blackout threat eases slightly

By Bernie Woodall and Leonard Anderson

LOS ANGELES/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - California sweltered
under record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures again on
Tuesday, pushing up the heat-related death toll and straining
the state's power grid.

With temperatures soaring as high as 125 degrees Fahrenheit
(51.6 Celsius) since Sunday, at least 30 deaths have been
blamed on the heat. Most of the victims were elderly people
living in California's central valley, which was under its
fifth straight day of excessive heat warnings.

Weather forecasters expected a slight cooling trend in the
next few days. Temperatures in the Central Valley were expected
to top out at 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 Celsius), after
hitting 108 (42.2 Celsius) and readings were cooler along the

"This is a historic heat wave," Joe Desmond, undersecretary
of energy affairs for the California Resources Agency, told

Desmond said this was the first time in 57 years that both
Northern and Southern California had endured record-breaking
heat at the same time.

More than 50,000 homes and businesses were without power on
Tuesday in scattered outages resulting from neighborhood
transformers blowing rather than major infrastructure failing.

The grid operator expected peak demand on Tuesday would
reach 50,538 megawatts, breaking Monday's record of 50,270
megawatts, which was 11 percent higher than the record set last

Officials had feared that rolling blackouts on Monday were
going to disrupt business and daily life in California, which
has the world's fifth largest economy, but were spared. Power
authorities expected to get through the rest of the week
without resorting to crisis measures.


"If everything holds together, we will be all right," said
Gregg Fishman, spokesman for the California Independent System
Operator, which manages 80 percent of the grid. "But if we have
a major contingency like a plant going off or losing
transmission, then we will have a problem."

Freeway information signs flashed notices urging consumers
to refrain from using washers and dryers, stores ran short of
fans and hundreds sought refuge from the heat by visiting
air-conditioned shopping malls or going to the beach.

"It's unbreatheable hot," said Shauntel Barrow, an office
worker in downtown Los Angeles. "You step outside and you don't
want to inhale."

Barrow said she was trying to save energy but added: "It's
hard. We were not running the air conditioning until we get
home at 5 o'clock. But it was like an oven so today we left it
on low. We're cheating but we can't help it."

In central California, the Fresno County Coroner's office
said at least 10 people had been found dead since the weekend,
collapsed in doorways, kitchens and bedrooms with only fans
running, local media reported.

In Kern County, a woman collapsed and died while walking
from her home to a drugstore near the Death Valley National
Park where temperatures hit 125 degrees on Sunday. Other deaths
were reported around the state in homes for the elderly and in

In Los Angeles, city officials opened two 24-hour "cooling
centers" with air conditioning and free water for local

The California Farm Bureau Farm Bureau said milk production
in the state was 15 percent down, walnuts were getting
sunburned, and peach, plum and nectarine growers reported heat
damage to their crops.

(Additional reporting by Jill Serjeant in Los Angeles and
Scott DiSavino in New York)