US storm carnage death toll rises to 22

 

Nearly 1.8 million people in the eastern US faced another sweltering day without power as the death toll from weekend summer storms rose to 22.

Stifling homes and spoiled food were some of the challenges as temperatures approached or exceeded 100 degrees (38 degrees Celsius). Concerns rose about the sick and elderly - especially vulnerable without air conditioning in the sweltering heat. Many sought refuge in hotels or basements.

Officials feared the death toll could climb because of the heat and widespread use of generators, which emit fumes that can be dangerous in enclosed spaces.

Friday's storm arrived with little warning and knocked out power to three million homes and businesses, so utility companies have had to wait days for extra crews travelling from as far away as Quebec and Oklahoma.

And the toppled trees and power lines often entangled broken equipment in debris that must be removed before workers can even get started.

Most of the weekend deaths came from trees falling on homes and cars. At least 10 of the dead were killed in Virginia, including a 90-year-old woman asleep in her bed when a tree slammed into her house.

The power cuts had prompted fears of traffic problems, but officials in Washington DC and Maryland gave many workers the option of staying home yesterday.

Hundreds of traffic signals were still not working, and dozens of secondary roads were closed.

In Washington, officials set up collection sites for people to drop off rotting food. Others had weekend cookouts in an attempt to use their food while it lasted. And in West Virginia, National Guard troops handed out food and water and made door-to-door checks.

In Great Falls, Virginia, just outside Washington, a Safeway supermarket trying to stay open with a limited power supply handed out free bags of dry ice. But after two days of temperatures in the 90s (20s Celsius), the air inside was stale. Shopping trolleys with spoiled food, buzzing with flies, sat outside the store.

At the Springvale Terrace nursing home and OAP centre in Silver Spring, Maryland, generators were brought in to provide electricity and air-conditioning units were installed in windows in large common rooms to offer respite from the heat and darkness.

Residents using walkers struggled to navigate doors that were supposed to open automatically. Nurses had to throw out spoiled food, sometimes over the loud objections of residents who insisted their melting ice cream was still good.

Margaret Foster, 93, and Helen Ofsharick, 95, passed the time outside.

“You wouldn't want to live this way more than a day or so,” Ms Foster said. “There are sick people here, or people who don't think too well. They need help.”

AP

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