* Triple-digit heat blankets southern third of the country
* State of emergency in Ohio, Virginia, West Virginia, D.C.
* Restoring power could take up to a week in some areas
WASHINGTON, July 1 A heat wave baking the
eastern United States in record temperatures is set to continue
on Sunday after deadly storms killed at least 12 people, downed
power lines from Indiana to Maryland and left more than 3
million customers without power.
Emergencies were declared in Washington D.C., Ohio, Virginia
and West Virginia on Saturday because of damage from overnight
storms, which unleashed hurricane-force winds across a 500-mile
(800-km) stretch of the mid-Atlantic region.
President Barack Obama authorized the Federal Emergency
Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate all disaster relief
efforts in storm-ravaged Ohio.
The storms' rampage was followed by roasting temperatures
that topped 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in several southern
cities, including Atlanta, where the mercury hit 106 degrees (41
Celsius), according to Accuweather.com.
Heat advisories remained in effect into Sunday across the
southeast and lower half of the Mississippi valley, with
"triple-digit temperatures expected across the southern third of
the country," the National Weather Service said.
"It is very unsafe outdoors for those susceptible to these
extreme conditions," it warned in a statement.
Power crews worked into the night to try to restore service
to homes and businesses, and officials said in some areas the
job could take up to a week. Utilities in Ohio, Virginia and
Maryland described damage to their power grids as catastrophic.
Six people were killed in Virginia in storm-related
incidents, and more than 1 million customers were left without
power in the worst outage not linked to a hurricane in the
state's history, said Bob Spieldenner, a spokesman for the
Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Two Maryland residents died in the storm - one struck by a
falling tree in Anne Arundel County, the other electrocuted
after a tree crashed into a house in Montgomery County - said
state emergency management agency spokesman Edward Hopkins.
In New Jersey, two cousins aged 2 and 7 were killed by a
falling tree in a state park. And in eastern Tennessee, heat was
blamed for the deaths of two brothers, ages 3 and 5, in Bradley
County. They had been playing outside in 105-degree Fahrenheit
(41-degree Celsius) heat.
OUTAGES ACROSS MARYLAND
In Maryland, about 800,000 customers lost power, with
outages reported throughout the state, Hopkins said.
Ohio, where one storm-related death was reported, faced
similar difficulties. Outages hit two-thirds of the state with
about 1 million homes and businesses left without electricity.
Governor John Kasich said it could take a week to fully restore
West Virginia was also hard hit by storm-related outages,
with about 614,000 customers without power, said Terrance
Lively, spokesman for the state emergency management agency.
Further north, the storm caused outages from Indiana, where
135,000 customers lost power, to New Jersey, where Atlantic
County declared a state of emergency and at least 206,000
customers were without power.
Blazing temperatures in New York, where thermometer readings
were in the 90s (32-38 Celsius) on Saturday, came ahead of a
threat of strike by 8,500 Consolidated Edison workers
over a new contract.
Early Sunday morning, the company locked out its unionized
workers after contract talks broke down, both sides said,
raising the possibility of power cuts during the heat wave.
The company asked to extend negotiations for two more weeks,
it said, but the union refused. In response, the firm told union
members not to report for work on Sunday.
The action increased the risk of power outages if the heat
wave puts extra strain on the electrical grid for New York City
and suburban Westchester county.
"Both sides are far apart," said company spokesman Mike
Clendenon. "We asked the union to extend the talks for two weeks
but they refused."
"We can't operate the system reliably for customers if the
union can still call a strike at a moment's notice," he said.
John Melia, a spokesman for the Utilities Workers Union of
America (UWUA) said that as of 2 a.m. Sunday (EDT) its 8,500
ConEd power workers were locked out.
"ConEd took the extreme measure of locking out its unionized
workforce putting the city of New York and Westchester county in
peril during a heat wave."
Both sides continued talking for over an hour after the
midnight Saturday deadline expired, but failed to reach a
settlement over a new contract for the company's unionized
workers. A major sticking point in the contract was ConEd's plan
to phase out defined pensions.