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Heat Eases but Thousands in Southland Still Lack Power

Utility officials say they don't know when electricity will be completely restored. Across the state, the death toll keeps rising.

July 27, 2006|Lynn Doan and Amanda Covarrubias | Times Staff Writers

Even as temperatures finally dipped Wednesday, thousands of Southern Californians remained without power for the fifth straight day, and utilities officials said they were unsure when electricity would be fully restored.

"We're making a lot of progress" in repairing overtaxed transformers, said Kim Hughes, a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which had 11,000 customers without service Wednesday, down from 25,000 Tuesday.

In addition, 3,300 Southern California Edison customers had no power.

Across the state, the death toll continued to climb, with more than 60 Californians believed to have died from the record heat wave. One of the hardest-hit counties was Fresno, where hospitals were filled to capacity and the morgue ran out of room.

"On a usual day, our doctors will probably autopsy three to four people at the most," said county Coroner Loralee Cervantes. "By noon today, we've already done three autopsies. We're working all hands on deck right now. This morning I was truly nervous about the capacity of our facility and our ability to keep up."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Friday July 28, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 69 words Type of Material: Correction
Weather photo: A photo of a man who had been overcome by heat was accompanied by the wrong caption in some editions of Thursday's California section. The incorrect caption described a baby in a crib with an ice pack; the caption should have said Fresno Fire Department workers were assisting Ryan Nale, 32, who blacked out on the roof of his business while working to fix an air conditioner.

In some areas of the morgue, bodies were being doubled up on gurneys because of lack of space, she said. The morgue was holding 43 bodies Wednesday, 20 of which were suspected of being heat-related deaths.

They included Araxie Long, 82, and her son, Carl Long Jr., 53, found dead inside their two-bedroom Fresno home Tuesday morning by a relative who went to check on them. Neighbors said that, probably to prevent high electricity bills, the pair did not like to use their air conditioner, though it worked.

When firefighters arrived, it was more than 100 degrees inside, and they found a living room window propped open with a blowing fan. Two blocks away was a city-sponsored "cooling center," where the Longs could have found some respite from the heat, officials said.

The Fresno County coroner's office also said Wednesday that Mary L. Turk, 75, died Monday in her mobile home near Easton, south of Fresno. She was found after neighbors noticed that her lights had been out for more than four days. Cervantes said Turk's electricity had accidentally been cut off.

"It was hotter than the devil inside," said mobile home park manager Mike Johnson.

Early Wednesday, Sacramento officials found the bodies of two people in their homes. One was Billie Lorraine Walker, 85, who was found dead by her son.

"She, for whatever reason, was confused and turned the heat up instead of the air conditioner," said Sacramento Fire Capt. Jim Doucette.

The other victim was Allen Menditto, 60, who complained of chest pain Tuesday night and was found dead by his wife the next morning in their third-floor apartment. They did not have an air conditioner.

To promote cooling centers, where people without air conditioning can relax, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger made a quick visit to a mental health center in South Los Angeles that accommodates about 20 people. By midday Wednesday, however, nobody had taken advantage of it.

Schwarzenegger said he directed state health officials to contact nursing homes to make sure they have evacuation plans in case of a heat-related emergency, such as a power outage. And he ordered social service officials to conduct safety inspections of residential motels where many disabled and elderly people live.

"It's people like us who are fit who can handle it if all of a sudden the air conditioning goes out at the house. But there is a lot of vulnerable citizens who can't, because they are sick and they are fragile," the governor said.

Schwarzenegger also ordered cooling centers to be created at state fairgrounds. He said people can call a toll-free number -- (800) 952-5210 -- to find the location of the nearest center.

The weather may help, because high temperatures are expected to drop below triple digits today, reaching the mid-80s to lower 90s in much of Southern California and falling to the low to mid-80s Friday, said Bill Hoffer, a spokesman for the National Weather Service station in Oxnard. Humidity will remain about 40%, he said.

The San Bernardino County health department issued an extreme-heat advisory to residents Wednesday as temperatures were expected to remain in the triple digits in the Inland Empire. Officials suggested that residents increase their fluid intake, wear lightweight clothing and stay inside air-conditioned buildings during peak heat.

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Times staff writer Robert Salladay contributed to this report.

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