Smothering heat and violent storms kept a stranglehold on the eastern half of the country on Saturday as the weather’s death toll rose to at least 108.
In Chicago, at least 56 people whose bodies were brought to the Cook County medical examiner’s office on Saturday had died of heatrelated causes. Widespread power outages overnight stilled fans and air conditioners in the 90-degree weather.
“We’re calling this a weatherrelated disaster,” said Mike Boehmer, an assistant administrator for the medical examiner. “This is something we’ve never seen before.”
llinois’ death toll since the heat wave started has reached at least 61.
While a breath of slightly cooler air floated across the upper Midwest and into the Northeast, it touched off severe thunderstorms from the Plains through New England. Falling trees killed five people in New York state and lightning may have killed a Massachusetts woman.
One New York woman was killed when a white pine snapped in the wind and toppled onto her family’s fold-out camper.
The heat was directly involved in 14 deaths in Wisconsin and may have contributed to nine more, authorities said Saturday. Other deaths over the past week included: 12 in Missouri; six in Indiana; two each in Kentucky and Iowa; and one each in Texas, Nebraska and Oklahoma.
In Philadelphia, where Saturday was the hottest day in 29 years with a high of 103, officials blamed two deaths on the heat, including that of one man found in his car.
In Chicago, officials said most of the victims had suffered from heart problems.
“We’re not accustomed to handling this type of disaster,” Boehmer said. “With temperatures reaching 99 degrees today, that’s not far off from yesterday’s weather, and I would suspect that this could continue.”
“Oh, it’s hot, you can’t sleep,” said 94-year-old Inez Anderson, who lives in a Chicago senior citizens’ complex where few apartments have air conditioning and a man in his 70s died of heat stroke in an upstairs hallway.
The Washington Monument was shut down for a third day because the interior temperature rose into the 90s.
A midday thunderstorm dropped the temperature at Milwaukee from 89 to 78, but the humidity stayed above 60 percent. The relief was more distinct with Saturday’s readings in the 70s in western Nebraska.
Ahead of the easing temperatures, records fell: it hit 105 in Danbury, Conn.; 101 in Norfolk, Va.; 100 in Atlanta; and 102 in New York City’s Central Park, where trees and grass offer some relief from the blistering, heat-reflecting urban canyons of concrete, brick and asphalt.
“We’re playing Christmas songs, like ‘Winter Wonderland,’ to help beat the heat,” said trumpeter David Gordon of the Bruce Edwards Quartet, playing jazz in New York City’s Duffy Square.
“It’s sonic air conditioning,” said guitarist Mark Hagan.