July 28, 2006

Death toll in California heat wave up to 126

By Jorene Barut-Phillips

CLOVIS, California (Reuters) - The death toll from this
week's brutal heat wave in California has reached at least 126,
state officials said on Friday, although record high
temperatures were finally easing.

The state's Office of Emergency Services said it had
confirmed 69 deaths from heat stress, with another 57
fatalities believed to be linked to the extreme weather. Of
those 88 were men and 38 women.

Los Angeles County said it was investigating another six
deaths believed to be heat related.

"This is the worst in recent memory," said Dr. Howard
Backer, a medical consultant for emergency preparedness for the
California Department of Health Services. "Temperatures are
coming down, but there is a little bit of a lag from the time
the temperatures come down until the health risks resolve."

Most of the dead were elderly, with the youngest 20 and the
oldest 95 in Imperial County in the far south of the state.

Especially hard hit over the past week was the state's
Central Valley, a major farming area. In Fresno, temperatures
had exceeded 112 degrees F (44.5 C) for five days in a row, the
longest such streak since 1898.

"While this type of triple-digit weather is common for the
Central Valley, this is the first time we had 11 straight days
and I think the humidity levels were different," said Henry
Renteria, director of the Office of Emergency Services.

Normally this time of year Fresno is still hot, with the
average high July temperature of 97 F (36 C).


Many people continued to suffer inconveniences after a week
in which more than 2 million Californians went without
electricity at some point amid record demand for power.

More than 2,000 customers in the town of Clovis outside
Fresno experienced a power outage on Friday.

"It's easily attributed to the four to five days at 112 F
(44.5 C)," said Darryl Mello, who was replacing a transformer
for utility company PG&E under the hot sun. "The whole system
in Fresno and Clovis is feeling the heat. Underground cables
are experiencing too much amperage and no chance to cool off."

Without electricity, Denise and Peter Widmer of Clovis kept
to their backyard pool to keep cool, even dumping their dog
into the water. They listened to a solar-powered radio and said
they planned to cook for guests later on an outdoor grill.
"We're finding alternative ways to entertain," she said.

Local coroners who had struggled with many bodies earlier
in the week saw a calmer situation by Friday.

"It had been pretty busy at the beginning of the week, up
until Wednesday evening," said Ralph Ghimenti, who works in the
coroner's office in Stanislaus County in Modesto. "We were
almost at capacity ... Things have slowed down considerably."

A spokeswoman for the Stanislaus County Sheriff-Coroner
said most victims had died of heat stroke. "Core body
temperatures in excess of 108 degrees F, (42 C)" said Gina
Leguria. "We had one guy come in at 111 (44) degrees."

State farm officials said many cows had died and tree fruit
such as peaches, plums and nectarines were ruined.

(With additional reporting by Adam Tanner and Leonard
Anderson in San Francisco, Tamara Keith in Sacramento, Bernie
Woodall in Los Angeles)