* West Virginia hardest hit state
* Heat wave to ease in Midwest, high temps to blast West
(Adds two deaths due to storms in Tennessee)
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 people in the dark.
Electric utilities said more than 566,600 homes and
businesses were without power from Ohio to Virginia, leaving
them without air conditioning amid a scorching heat wave.
West Virginia, with a population of about 1.9 million, was
the hardest hit. Utilities warned that some people could be
without power for the rest of the week.
A fresh batch of damaging storms that pushed across southern
West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and North Carolina on
Thursday afternoon caused more outages and the weather was
blamed for two deaths in Tennessee's Great Smoky Mountains
One man riding a motorcycle was killed in an accident blamed
on the weather, and a woman died after being struck by a falling
tree, said park spokeswoman Melissa Cobern. Numerous trees were
knocked down inside the park, blocking roads and stranding
motorists who had to be rescued, she said.
Huge trucks loaded with ice and bottled water roared through
the picturesque West Virginia mountain resort town of Lewisburg
to supply thousands of residents in the region who lacked power
Plants that shut down during the initial power outages have
resumed pumping but had not generated enough pressure to supply
far-flung residents, Lewisburg Mayor John Manchester said.
Repair crews from as far away as Arkansas have set up a
temporary campground on the town's outskirts, where an empty
field was filled with dozens of electrical trucks.
Jerry Morehead said he and his crew had been working up to
18 hours a day. "We turned some people on today - did some good
work," he said.
Katie Gwynn of Lewisburg said that until her power went back
on Thursday, one of her neighbors had kept her refrigerator
running with his generator and extension cords for six days -
and would not accept any payment.
"The conditions have been ripe for great difficulties, but
people have pulled together," Manchester said, noting there had
been no deaths or serious injuries in Lewisburg related to the
The temperature in Charleston, the state's largest city,
reached 93 Fahrenheit (34 Celsius) on Thursday and was expected
to top 100 F on Friday and Saturday before returning to the
mid-80s F Monday, according to Accuweather.com.
Adding to the snarl and the strain on local infrastructure,
tens of thousands of visitors streamed in to attend a
professional golf tournament at The Greenbrier, a famed resort
in White Sulphur Springs near Lewisburg.
Thousands more were expected for weekend concerts at the
resort featuring Rod Stewart and Jon Bon Jovi.
BAD NEWS FOR MIDWEST FARMERS
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 prices surged to their highest in over
a year and soybeans were near a record high 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,
adding that Washington, D.C., could on Saturday break its
all-time record of 106 F (41 C) set in 1930.
The Midwest and East should start seeing more normal
temperatures next week, when the extreme heat returns to the
West and brings triple-digit temperatures to parts of Idaho,
Utah, Washington and Oregon.
The temperature in Chicago hit a record 103 F on 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 the
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.
The storms last Friday crossed the eastern United States
with heavy rain, hail and winds reaching 80 miles per hour (129
km per hour), leaving more than 4 million homes and businesses
without power. The storms and the record heat that followed have
killed at least 23 people.
(Reporting by Mary Wisniewski in Chicago, Scott DiSavino in New
York, Kim Palmer in Cleveland, Tim Ghianni in Nashville, and NR
Sethuraman in Bangalore; Editing by Andrew Stern, Todd Eastham
and Lisa Shumaker)