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Calif. heat death toll passes 140

Published July 29, 2006

FRESNO, Calif. - The state appeared to break out of its nearly two-week heat wave Friday, but not before it caused as many as 141 deaths and did untold damage to crops.

Authorities raised their toll of possibly heat-related deaths by more than 40 on Friday. The big increase came primarily from Los Angeles County and the Central Valley counties of Merced and Stanislaus, where coroners struggled to keep up.

Stanislaus County, which includes Modesto, has reported 29 heat-related deaths. It normally sees just one such death a year, county emergency services spokesman David Jones said.

California had been sizzling in triple-digit temperatures since July 16. Several cities set records for extended heat waves, including Fresno, with six consecutive 110-plus-degree days, and Sacramento, with 11 consecutive triple-digit days, said Cynthia Palmer, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Sacramento.

Only Friday did officials say the heat wave appeared to be over, with temperatures expected to return to normal over the weekend.

"You have to go back quite a ways before you see this kind of heat over this widespread an area lasting this long," said David Reynolds, the weather service's chief meteorologist in Monterey. "This kind of heat wave is relatively rare and may only occur every 20 to 25 years."

The majority of deaths attributed to the heat were of elderly people in homes without air conditioning in the Central Valley, where temperatures hit 115 degrees for several days.

Central Valley farmers were assessing damage to their crops. Growers of peaches, plums, nectarines and walnuts were especially hurt, said Rosanna Westmoreland, a spokeswoman for the California Farm Bureau.

"This is definitely going to be one of those years we're going to remember," said Paul Wenger, a Stanislaus County farmer who said thousands of his walnut and almond trees suffered sun damage and even died in the heat.

More than 1-million customers lost power in California's heat wave, largely because of equipment failures, but power regulators avoided the mandatory blackouts that marked the state's power crisis of 2000 and 2001. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. said it would offer payments between $25 and $100 to customers who went without power for more than two days.

Record July heat wave has taken toll in Europe

PARIS - Europe, from north to south, east to west, has sizzled through July with power outages and scores of deaths. The heat wave even brought a sinister reminder of the past, with officials in eastern Germany warning that World War II munitions might surface as river levels dropped.

In Ireland, where the average temperature in July is 59 degrees, the temperature soared to 88 on July 19 - the hottest day since August 1995.

Elsewhere, records also were being set. Germany, like Britain, has experienced the hottest July on record.

In France, officials were frantic to avoid a repeat of the summer of 2003, when 15,000 people died of heat-related causes.

This year, medical students were recruited to help doctors, and a media campaign tried to ensure no elderly were forgotten. Still, French authorities reported 64 deaths as of Thursday.

[Last modified July 29, 2006, 02:13:58]

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