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Heat, power outages continue assault on East, Midwest

An unrelenting wave of stifling heat continued to blanket the East and Midwest on Monday as millions of people struggled without power for a third straight day.

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday. By Parker Michels-Boyce, AP

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday.

By Parker Michels-Boyce, AP

A car crushed by a fallen tree on Carrington Road in Lynchburg, Va., on Sunday.

About 2 million customers from North Carolina to New Jersey and as far west as Illinois were without power Monday morning. And utility officials said that for many the power would likely be out for several more days.

Since Friday, severe weather has been blamed for at least 22 deaths, most from trees falling on homes and cars. The culprit was a ferocious summer storm that cut a swath of destruction Friday night across 11 states, toppling trees, knocking out traffic lights, and sending thousands of people to shelters and into community pools to escape the heat.

The heat wave that began last week was expected to drive temperatures into the 100s from Indianapolis to Atlanta through the Fourth of July holiday.

The worst of the outages remained in the areas around Baltimore and Washington, D.C. To alleviate commuter congestion Monday, federal and state officials gave many workers the option of staying home. Federal agencies opened in Washington, but non-emergency employees had the option of taking leave or working from home. Maryland's governor also gave state workers wide leeway for staying out of the office.

Heat warnings have been issued for parts of Alabama, Florida, the Carolinas, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri and Ohio. In St. Louis, the National Weather Service warned of "dangerous heat" as temperatures climb to 106 degrees on Monday.

State public health officials have issued a boil-water advisory for all of West Virginia, where Environmental Health Services Director Barbara Taylor said statewide power outages related to the Friday night storm have put many water supplies at risk, and the advisory will remain in effect until further notice.

Since a storm pushed a tree through the roof of her Beckley, W.Va., home, Emma Patrick, says she's been living with a tangle of electrical wires. "These electrical wires are all in my house, all in my roof, all over the doors," Patrick says. "I am 91 years old with cancer. I am terrified to move around. I don't know if these wires are live or dead."

"The electric company is saying; 'You just have to wait.' I have been calling and calling and calling and these people act like they just do not care."

In Ohio, about 445,000 residents and businesses were without power in the aftermath of the state's worst storm since 2008, when it was battered by the remnants of Hurricane Ike. About 200 National Guard members were going door-to-door in the Columbus and Dayton areas Monday to check on residents who might need help. Columbus planned to open fire hydrants to help residents cool off.

"It makes me remember what life was like when I was a kid," said Terry Ann Grove, 71 , buying ice, bread and peanut butter at one of a handful of open stores in Newark, Ohio. "It's worse now because we're used to air-conditioning and McDonald's any time you want it."

Grove spent a day with a daughter who had power in Columbus, 45 minutes away, but returned to be home even though power wasn't expected until this weekend. "That's what porches are for, I guess," she said.

In nearby Granville, nobody had electricity, except for a few emergency generators. Denison University closed and sent students home. However, the village's four-day July Fourth fair was scheduled to start Wednesday -- with or without power -- powered by generators supplied by the amusement ride company.

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell declared a state of emergency, saying the storms caused the most widespread, non-hurricane-related power outage in that state's history. A wastewater treatment plant in Lynchburg lost power and discharged at least 250,000 gallons of water into the James River.

"This is not a one-day situation," McDonnell said. "It is a multiday challenge."

With no power at his home, barista Morgan Smith has been sleeping on the floor of Market Street Coffee in rural Purcellville, Va., for the last two nights. The store - which never lost power - is one of the few places in the western Loudoun County town with free wifi, and Monday morning, was busy with people charging cell phones and typing on laptops.

"People have been very flustered," Smith said. "Exhausted."

In the shop, Anna Novaes of nearby Lovettsville caught up on work while her daughter, Anna Luiza Mendonca, used her own laptop to take an online English class. The family lost power Friday night, and utility NOVEC forecast the outage would last until Tuesday afternoon.

"We've had to be creative," Novaes said. "We've been sleeping in the basement because it's fresher and cooler down there. And we've been going to the gym to take showers."

John Swift who lost power at his home in a suburb of Richmond, Va., toughed out the power outage without complaint. The heat, he said, was the "biggest nuisance."

"I've got a camp stove. I've got cold showers. I don't watch TV. It's not a big deal," said Swift, 60.

Already, the heat wave has "broken hundreds of daily records and quite a few all-time records," said Weather Service meteorologist Katie LaBelle. "The heat is actually a very significant threat, especially with all the power outages. Coming behind that storm, with all the damage it caused, reacting to the heat is a high priority, making sure people can find cool places while they wait for the power to come back on."

Weekend temperatures topped 109 in Georgia, the Carolinas, Tennessee and Kentucky. Meteorologists in Jacksonville said the combination of 100-degree temperatures and high humidity there made it feel like 118.

Some states declared emergencies and activated disaster-response agencies. Governors in New Jersey and Ohio called out the National Guard.

Officials focused on the most vulnerable residents: children, the sick and the elderly.

In Washington, D.C., officials canceled summer school for Monday as they continued to assess storm damage. The city opened libraries and recreation centers and extended the hours at community pools to give residents without power respite from the heat. The city dispatched National Guard troops to powerless intersections to direct traffic and keep people away from debris and downed power lines.

Maryland opened 74 cooling stations to help residents cope with the heat and was canvassing hospitals and nursing homes to ensure they have enough power to keep elderly and sick residents cool, Maryland Emergency Management Agency spokesman Ed McDonough said. The number of people without power is similar to power outages following hurricanes, he said.

"That's still an awful lot of people without power in the extreme heat we're having now," McDonough said. "It's still an event that's going to take days instead of hours. We didn't have the kind of warning you have with hurricane so they couldn't stage repair crews ahead of time."

In western Pennsylvania, power had been restored to 95% of the 63,000 customers who suffered outages during the storm. The rest were expected to have electricity back late Monday.

Contributing: Gary Strauss, Anthony DeBarros and Natalie DiBlasio in McLean, Va., Dennis Cauchon in Ohio and the Associated Press

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