Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Calif. Heat Wave Blamed for 14 Deaths

Scorching heat that has gripped Southern California for more than a week is responsible for at least 14 deaths, authorities said Tuesday.

Temperatures were down slightly Tuesday as the heat wave entered its eighth day, with a high of 101 degrees reported in Los Angeles.

Authorities reported finding bodies in vehicles and apartments. Twelve of the deaths occurred in Los Angeles County and two in San Bernardino County, authorities said. With the death toll climbing, officials urged caution.

"If you have elderly relatives or neighbors, do everything you can to check in on them as often as possible, make sure that they're OK during this heat wave," Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said.

In Los Angeles, an elderly couple were found dead in their San Fernando Valley apartment Monday, authorities said. Temperatures of 106 degrees were reported in the area in recent days.

Apartment manager Sheila Friedman said that paramedics told her it was 110 degrees inside the third-floor unit, and that she believed the couple kept their air conditioner off to cut costs.

Meanwhile, San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies found a man's body on the Marine Corps base in Twentynine Palms on Sunday. His dehydrated and sunburned friend reported the man, identified as of Michael Cuhna of Hesperia, as missing a day earlier, the Sheriff's Department said.

The friend told police the two were separated while illegally gathering scrap metal from the base. A preliminary coroner's report found Cuhna died of exposure and dehydration.

Elsewhere in San Bernardino County, a 47-year-old woman whose vehicle got stuck in the sand in a desert area was found dead Saturday, according to county deputy coroner Chalone Rhea.

Throughout Southern California, utility crews struggled to restore electricity as increased air conditioner use strained power grids.

About 29,000 homes were without power in 15 counties, including Los Angeles, Orange, Ventura, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, said Paul Klein, spokesman for Southern California Edison.

The outages were caused by equipment failures rather than power shortages, Klein added, meaning rolling blackouts were not expected.

Another 18,000 homes in the Los Angeles area were dark Tuesday night, said MaryAnne Pierson, a spokeswoman for the city's Department of Water and Power.

Near-record demand was causing transformers to pop and other electrical equipment to fail. People returning from vacations and businesses starting up after Labor Day put additional pressure on the grid, officials said.

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