LOS ANGELES – Southern California’s heat wave is suspected in the deaths of at least 16 people, officials said Tuesday as utilities struggled to fix power transformers overloaded by eight days of extreme weather that is expected to finally cool today.
The deaths included an elderly couple in the San Fernando Valley who had told neighbors they were trying to keep their air conditioner off to save money, a 45-year-old woman separated from two friends after their car crashed in the desert, and a Pasadena woman in her 80s whose body was discovered in her apartment. When paramedics arrived at the apartment Sunday, the temperature inside was 115 degrees, authorities said.
Hundreds of utility crews attempted to restore power to about 64,000 households, some of which have been without electricity for as long as three days.
“We felt like we were being tortured,” said Matthew Lorenzen, 28, whose Los Angeles home lost power several times Saturday, Sunday and Monday. “It was just horrible – lots of still, hot nights.”
But the National Weather Service said those hot nights, and days, will be cooling beginning today as the heat wave ebbs.
Temperatures, which reached the upper 90s in the San Fernando Valley on Tuesday, were expected to drop five to 10 degrees today with the arrival of a low-pressure front, said Stuart Seto, a weather specialist for the National Weather Service. Temperatures will continue to cool through the rest of the week.
Most of the deaths reported so far – 12 – occurred across a wide section of Los Angeles County, including the San Fernando Valley, Fairfax District and downtown L.A. Three victims were found in San Bernardino County and one in Riverside County.
The fatalities come a year after another major summer heat wave killed more than 140 people across the state – mostly elderly people in central and Northern California. In the wake of those deaths, state officials launched a study aimed at helping prevent more loss of life this summer.
The study found that most of the victims were elderly, poor and frail – and that early assessments significantly undercounted the number of people who succumbed to the heat. Many of the victims died several days into the heat wave and either did not have air conditioners in their living quarters or did not use them.
But this summer, officials said the death toll touched people of many different ages – some elderly people, but also a 26-year-old man riding his dirt bike, a metal scavenger in his 30s and a woman in her 40s.
They also warn the toll could grow as more autopsies are completed later this week.