* West Virginia hardest hit state
* Heat wave to continue through weekend
By Ian Simpson
LEWISBURG, W.V., July 5 Six days after violent
storms hit the eastern United States, the state of West Virginia
was struggling to recover on Thursday, with nearly a third of
electricity customers still without power and new storms putting
more customers in the dark.
Electric utilities said more than 550,000 homes and
businesses are without power from Ohio to Virginia, leaving them
without air conditioning amid a heat wave.
West Virginia, with a population of about 1.9 million
people, was the hardest hit. Utilities warned that some people
could be without power for the rest of the week in the worst-hit
The temperature in Charleston, West Virginia's largest city,
reached 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 Celsius) on Thursday and was
expected to top 100 degrees (38 C) on Friday and Saturday before
returning to near normal levels in the mid 80s by Monday,
according to Accuweather.com.
More outages have resulted from a fresh batch of damaging
storms that pushed across southern West Virginia, Tennessee,
Kentucky and North Carolina Thursday afternoon.
A cluster of strong storms drifted across Ohio Thursday
morning, causing power outages and knocking a 16-foot tree
branch onto a bed in a house on Sheffield Lake near Cleveland.
"At least I have firewood," said Harry May, 59. He and his
wife both work early shifts, so they were away from the house
when the branch broke through the roof of their house and landed
on Harry's side of the bed.
The continued heat wave was bad news for Midwest farmers,
with the corn crop suffering from drought in the middle of a
crucial growth phase.
The U.S. Drought Monitor showed an expanding area of
abnormally dry and drought conditions in Illinois, Indiana, Ohio
and Missouri. Corn and soybean prices jumped to new highs on
Thursday as the heat scorched crops.
"It's not only abnormally dry, but now you have 100 degree
heat combined with the ongoing drought and it's too much for the
crop," Accuweather.com senior meteorologist Alex Sosnowski said.
The Midwest and East should start seeing more normal
temperatures next week, when the extreme heat moves west,
bringing triple-digit temperatures to parts of Idaho, Utah,
Washington and Oregon.
The temperature in Chicago hit a record 103 degrees
Thursday, before dropping 19 degrees with the arrival of a
thunderstorm in the early afternoon. Summer school was canceled
at 21 public school buildings without air conditioning. Part of
Columbus Drive near downtown was closed after pavement buckled.
Around a ground-level fountain near downtown Chicago's Daley
Plaza at lunchtime, more than a dozen people were resting their
feet in the cool water.
"Any time you can cool off one part of your body, it helps,"
said Mary Moore, 56, of Chicago, who was dipping her feet in the
fountain during a break from jury duty. She said she didn't mind
the sunny weather. "I prefer it to the winter," she said.
On Saturday, Washington, D.C., could break its all-time
record of 106 degrees (41 C) set in 1930, Sosnowski said.
The storms last Friday crossed the eastern United States
with heavy rain, hail and winds reaching 80 miles per hour (129
kph), leaving more than 4 million homes and businesses without
power. The storms and the record heat that followed have killed
at least 23 people.
American Electric Power Co Inc of Ohio said about
224,000 homes and businesses remained without power in West
Virginia and Virginia, and about 144,000 in Ohio were powerless.
FirstEnergy Corp of Ohio said it was working to
restore power to more than 111,000 customers in West Virginia
and Maryland. That was down from about the initial 566,000 homes
and businesses affected by the storms.
Illinois-based Exelon Corp said its Baltimore Gas
and Electric unit still had about 53,000 customers out in
Virginia power company Dominion Resources Inc said
about 29,000 customers were still without power in its Virginia
and North Carolina service areas.
Washington, D.C.-based Pepco Holdings Inc said it
had about 20,300 customers without power in the District of
Columbia and Maryland, and about 16,100 were out in New Jersey.