California wine country fire began near damaged PG&E tower, 2,000 flee

California wine country fire began near damaged PG&E tower, 2,000 flee
By Stephen Lam

GEYSERVILLE, Calif. (Reuters) – A wind-driven wildfire that forced some 2,000 people to flee homes in Northern California’s wine country on Thursday erupted near the base of a damaged high-voltage transmission tower owned by Pacific Gas and Electric Co, utility and fire officials said.

The company, a unit of bankrupt holding company PG&E Corp <PCG.N>, acknowledged in an “electric safety incident” report to the California Public Utilities Commission that one of its power lines malfunctioned at about the time and location of the fire’s origin on Wednesday night.

It said a PG&E technician inspecting the site on Thursday found the area taped off by state fire department personnel who brought to his attention “what appeared to be a broken jumper on the same tower”.

PG&E had shut down some electric distribution wires in the area as a precaution against dangerously high winds at the time, but high-voltage transmission lines such as that in question were left on as they were deemed durable enough for the forecast conditions, the utility said in a public statement.

The transmission tower involved had been examined this year in PG&E’s wildfire safety inspection program, it added.

Neither PG&E nor the commission said whether the damaged tower or the malfunctioning transmission line attached to it were suspected of igniting the blaze, dubbed the Kincade fire, which has destroyed about a dozen homes and other structures.

The cause is being investigated, said the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, or Cal Fire, which listed the same place and time of origin for the fire as the tower incident reported by PG&E.

PG&E filed for bankruptcy protection last January, citing more than $30 billion in liability stemming from devastating wildfires in 2017 and 2018 found to have been sparked by its equipment.

The Kincade fire in Sonoma County was the worst of several blazes raging throughout California as PG&E and other utilities cut off electricity to nearly 200,000 homes and businesses in preventive blackouts to reduce wildfire risks from high winds.

Hundreds of miles to the south in the Canyon County community of Los Angeles County, a blaze called the Tick fire prompted evacuation of an estimated 40,000 residents. Flames consumed about 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares) and destroyed an unknown number of structures, according to the Los Angeles City News Service.

HISTORIC TOWN EVACUATED

By Thursday, the Sonoma County blaze had scorched about 10,000 acres (4,000 hectares), Cal Fire said. No injuries have been reported.

Ground crews fought the blaze at close range with hand tools and bulldozers, assisted by water-dropping helicopters and airplane tankers carrying payloads of fire-retardant slurry.

The Sonoma County sheriff’s office ordered the evacuation of Geyserville, a town of nearly 900 people, founded in the mid-19th century and named for nearby hot springs and geothermal attractions.

A Reuters photographer saw about a dozen homes in flames in the town on Thursday.

By midday, mandatory evacuation notices covered a total of roughly 2,000 people, the sheriff’s office said. An evacuation warning in the northern end of the nearby larger town of Healdsburg, urged residents to be ready to flee at a moment’s notice.

Both towns, about 75 miles (120 km) north of San Francisco, are hubs of upscale restaurants, wine-tasting rooms, inns, and shops surrounded by rolling hills dotted by vineyards.

Large parts of California were under red-flag alerts this week following forecasts of hot, dry winds blowing into populated areas from deserts to the east.

The number of homes and workplaces without power could climb to more than 500,000 under worst-case scenarios for precautionary outages this week, according to PG&E, Southern California Edison <EIX.N> and other electricity providers.

PG&E said in a statement on Thursday it had shut off power for about 178,000 houses and businesses in northern California during an Oct. 23 public safety power shutoff (PSPS) event.

The company has restored power to 93% of those customers following announcements that the weather was “all-clear,” the statement said.

“Safety patrols, inspections and power restoration took place throughout the day and continues through the night,” PG&E said, adding that it expects power to be restored to all customers on Friday, unless any equipment is damaged and needs repair.

Marc Chenard, a forecaster with the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center, said that while the winds have abated for Friday in northern California, the area is in for more high winds this weekend.

“Yes, it’s improving, most of the warnings there have been lifted for now,” Chenard said. “But we have another (wind) event coming in for Saturday and at least through Sunday. This isn’t over.”

Earlier on Thursday, California Governor Gavin Newsom, who called PG&E’s handling of that incident “unacceptable,” said the company appeared to have “significantly” improved its readiness for this week’s wildfire threat.

Chenard said that hot dry winds, called the Santa Ana winds in Southern California east of San Bernardino and down to San Diego are expected to continue through the weekend.

(Reporting by Stephen Lam in Geyserville; Additional reporting by Maria Caspani in New York, Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Culver City, Calif.; Editing by Bill Tarrant, Leslie Adler and Lincoln Feast)

More than half a million Californian customers may face power outages

More than half a million Californian customers may face power outages
By Subrat Patnaik and Rich McKay

(Reuters) – More than half a million homes and businesses in California could lose power this week as utilities including Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E)  and Southern California Edison(SCE) cut off electricity as a preventive measure against wildfires.

Over 308,000 customers in seven counties, including Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Ventura in southern California, are under the Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) consideration, Southern California Edison said.

Shutoffs from SCE could start early Thursday.

Meanwhile, PG&E has shut off power in 15 counties, affecting about 178,000 customers in those areas. The company said additional power shutoffs for parts of San Mateo County and Kern County were expected to begin at about 1 a.m. (0800 GMT) on Thursday, affecting more than 1,000 customers.

San Diego Gas & Electric Co has also identified more than 41,000 customers under PSPS consideration, but has not implemented any power shutoffs on Thursday.

Forecaster Marc Chenard said the worst of the winds would arrive on Thursday afternoon and into Friday.

“It looks like at its worst, southern California will see wind gusts of 55 mph. Down in some of the coastal areas the winds could reach 75 mph later today,” he said.

Power lines could be knocked down and start fires among dry trees and vegetation, according to earlier forecasts.

Bankrupt Californian power producer PG&E cut off electricity to more than 730,000 homes and workplaces in northern California earlier this month to try to reduce wildfire risks posed by extremely windy and dry weather.

Chenard added that northern California could experience dangerous wind gusts of up to 45 mph. “This is not going to abate until at least this weekend.”

Wildfires were also growing through the night in Sonoma County, about 65 miles north of San Francisco, which is popular with tourists visiting wine-producing areas in California.

By early Thursday morning, the fire had grown to 7,000 acres, and more evacuations were ordered overnight in and near Geyserville, officials said. No injuries had been reported.

Evacuation warnings were issued before midnight in some communities as the wind-driven fires moved toward tourist towns including Healdsburg, officials said.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Homes destroyed, thousands without power after tornado rips through Dallas

Homes destroyed, thousands without power after tornado rips through Dallas
(Reuters) – Emergency responders on Monday were assessing damage from a tornado that plowed through parts of northern Dallas late on Sunday, knocking out power to more than 175,000 homes and businesses and delaying flights at regional airports.

The city’s emergency management department said on its website that 100 traffic lights were without power and several more were knocked down on Monday morning, and crews were still surveying the damage. There were no reports of fatalities.

Some 63,000 homes and businesses in Dallas county were still without power on Monday morning, according to PowerOutage.us.

The storm left a miles-long swath of destruction through Dallas, hitting near the Love Field airport in the city’s north, the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center in College Park Maryland said early on Monday.

Video footage on Twitter showed collapsed roofs, overturned cars and homes reduced to piles of debris in the wake of the twister in Richardson, Texas, a northeast suburb of Dallas. Images showed the roof and walls of a Home Depot <HD.N> store had caved in, exposing a mangled web of ceiling beams.

“It was exactly one tornado that hit at 9:02 p.m.,” said National Weather Service meteorologist David Roth.

“We also saw golf ball- and baseball-sized hail in some areas and a narrow swath of north Dallas that got between one to three inches of rain,” Roth said, or the equivalent of 2.5 cm to 7.6 cm.

(Reporting by Subrat Patnaik in Bengaluru, Rich McKay in Atlanta and Gabriella Borter in New York; Editing by Alex Richardson and Steve Orlofsky)

Rescuers search waist-high muddy waters for missing people in typhoon-hit Japan

By Kwiyeon Ha and Kyung Hoon Kim

NAGANO, Japan (Reuters) – Rescue workers waded through muddy, waist-high waters on Monday searching for missing people after one of the worst typhoons to hit Japan in recent history, while rain fell again in some affected areas, stoking fears of further flooding.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said vast areas had been struck by the storm and called for urgent support to those affected.

At least 56 people were killed in the typhoon, which left vast sections of towns in central and eastern Japan under water, with another 15 missing and 211 injured, public broadcaster NHK said.

Tens of thousands of rescue workers and a fleet of helicopters fanned out in the affected areas, officials said.

“There still are many residents who have yet to be accounted for. Our people in uniform are working day and night in search and rescue operations,” Abe told an emergency meeting of ministers.

“Damage has been made in an extremely wide range of areas, and more than 30,000 people are still being forced to remain in the state of evacuation. It is our urgent task to offer meticulous support to those who have been affected.”

Typhoon Hagibis, which means “speed” in the Philippine language Tagalog, made landfall on Japan’s main island of Honshu on Saturday and headed out to sea early on Sunday.

Groups of rescuers wearing goggles and snorkels looked for survivors while making their way in waist-high water in Nagano, central Japan, where the Chikuma River inundated swathes of land. A middle-aged man in Nagano, asked about the situation around his house, told NHK: “It’s just like a lake.”

Yoshinobu Tsuchiya, 69, returned on Monday morning to his home in Nagano city, near where the Chikuma had breached its banks, to find that his first floor had been flooded and that the garden he tended had turned to brown mud.

“So this is what it’s come to,” Tsuchiya sighed to the Nikkei newspaper. “I can’t even imagine when we’ll finish cleaning up. I’m sick of this flood.”

A neighbour in his 60s told the newspaper: “This is just like a tsunami. This is hopeless.”

At a second emergency meeting on Monday, Abe urged ministers to do their utmost to help evacuees return to normal life as soon as possible.

More than 110,000 police officers, firefighters, soldiers and coastguard personnel, as well as some 100 helicopters, were mobilised for Monday’s rescue operations, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said.

Heavy rain was forecast for Monday night in some parts of central and eastern Japan, where soil is already loosened by record-breaking downpours from the typhoon, prompting Suga to urge residents to keep their guard up.

“Rain is expected in affected areas today. Because of the rain we have seen so far, levels of water are high in some rivers and soil is loose in some areas,” Suga said. “Please remain on your guard for landslides and river overflows.”

A Nagano city official said there were some showers by early afternoon, although they were not heavy.

Some parts of Japan saw about one third of their average annual precipitation just over the weekend, causing 37 rivers to break their banks, NHK said.

More than 77,000 households were still without power by mid-afternoon on Monday, a national holiday, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said. That was down from 262,000 households as of midday on Sunday.

Also, about 136,000 households were without running water as of Monday morning, Suga said.

In Fukushima, north of the capital, Tokyo Electric Power Co <9501.T> reported nine cases of irregular readings from sensors monitoring water over the weekend at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, which was crippled by a 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

But a Tokyo Electric official said on Monday eight of the irregular readings were triggered by rainwater, and the other one by a malfunction of a monitor, and that there was no leakage of contaminated water.

(Reporting by Kyung Hoon Kim, Kwiyeon Ha; Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

PG&E to cut off power to nearly 800,000 customers to reduce wildfire risk

PG&E to cut off power to nearly 800,000 customers to reduce wildfire risk
(Reuters) – Power provider PG&E Corp’s unit said on Tuesday it would cut off power for nearly 800,000 customers across northern and central California to reduce wildfire risk following severe wind warnings.

The company expects to shut off power in some areas early Wednesday and said the outage will potentially impact 34 Californian counties.

PG&E, which filed for bankruptcy protection this year, had said it would significantly expand the practice of shutting off power to communities at risk of wildfire when conditions demand it, despite objections from some consumer advocates who said such disruptions can harm people who need electricity for medical equipment.

(Reporting by Shanti S Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Shinjini Ganguli)

More than 1,600 die in India’s heaviest monsoon season for 25 years

By Devjyot Ghoshal and Saurabh Sharma

NEW DELHI/LUCKNOW (Reuters) – The heaviest monsoon rains to lash India in 25 years have killed more than 1,600 people since June, government data showed on Tuesday, as authorities battled floods in two northern states and muddy waters swirled inside a major city.

The monsoon, which typically lasts between June and September, has already delivered 10% more rain than a 50-year average, and is expected to withdraw only after early October, more than a month later than usual.

The extended rains have wreaked havoc, with northern Uttar Pradesh and Bihar states the worst hit in the latest spell of intense downpours, killing 144 people since last Friday, two officials said.

In Patna, Bihar’s riverside capital city that is home to around two million people, residents said they were wading through waist-deep water to buy essential items like food and milk.

Ranjeev Kumar, 65, a resident of Patna’s Ashiyana neighbourhood, told Reuters by telephone that the entire area was stranded by the water.

“The government is not doing any rescue and the situation is very serious here,” he said.

On Monday, relief workers rescued Bihar’s Deputy Chief Minister Sushil Modi from his home in Patna. Video footage showed him dressed in shorts and a t-shirt as he was brought out on a raft along with his family members.

Saket Kumar Singh, who lives in the city’s Boring Road area, said he was stranded for four days, with about two feet of water inside his house.

“There was no electricity, and despite having money I was helpless,” Singh, 45, said.

In neighboring Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state, heavy rains have brought down more than 800 homes and swathes of farmland are submerged.

Data released by the federal home ministry shows that 1,673 people have died because of floods and heavy rains this year, as of Sept. 29.

Officials said that many of these fatalities were caused due to wall and building collapses, including in Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra, the western state that has seen 371 flood-related deaths in 2019, the highest in the country.

“The danger of old or weak structures collapsing increases during the heavy rainfall, like what happened this time,” Chandrakant Sharma, a flood expert with Uttar Pradesh’s disaster relief department, told Reuters.

India’s flood prevention and forecasting systems are lacking, other experts say, even as the total flood-prone area in the country has increased in recent decades because of deforestation, degradation of water bodies, and climate change.

(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in NEW DELHI and Saurabh Sharma in LUCKNOW, Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav in MUMBAI; Editing by Peter Graff)

Large parts of Bermuda plunged into darkness as Hurricane Humberto whips island

FILE PHOTO: The eye of Hurricane Humberto is seen as National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Hurricane Hunter flies across it, September 16, 2019, in this still image from video obtained via social media. NOAA/Lisa Bucci/via REUTERS

By Don Burgess

HAMILTON, Bermuda (Reuters) – Hurricane Humberto knocked out power lines in Bermuda on Wednesday night, plunging nearly the whole Atlantic archipelago into darkness, as the storm whipped the British territory with powerful winds and heavy rain.

Even as Hurricane Humberto was moving away, Miami-based U.S. National Hurricane Center forecast a prolonged period of dangerous winds through Thursday and warned that dangerous breaking waves could lead to coastal flooding overnight.

More than 28,000 homes and businesses had lost electricity by early evening, according to electricity company Belco. Flights were canceled and some residents in the capital, Hamilton, covered windows with wooden planks and metal sheeting.

Belco said it would begin restoring power on Thursday morning.

Bermudan officials warned residents to stay off roads and prepare for possible tornadoes as the hurricane picked up forward speed and weather conditions worsened.

The officials also reported that people who had sought refuge in an emergency housing shelter at a public high school had to be relocated after windows were damaged.

James Dodgson, director of the Bermuda Weather Service, said conditions were already worsening.

“I can’t even rule out some isolated tornadoes. … We have a very serious situation as we have a very big hurricane moving by to our north,” he told a news conference.

On Wednesday, the storm’s eye was located to the west of the archipelago, which lies about 650 miles (1,050 km) east of the United States.

The storm packed 120 mile-per-hour (193 kph) winds and picked up speed during the afternoon, moving at 20 mph (31 kph). Humberto was a Category 3 hurricane on the five-step Saffir-Simpson hurricane scale, the NHC said.

Bermuda National Disaster Coordinator Steve Cosham warned that the storm could topple trees and rip down power lines, while tornadoes could damage buildings.

Resident Saivo Goater placed boards across the sliding glass doors of his two-story dwelling, remembering back-to-back hurricanes in 2014 that ripped off parts of his roof.

“I don’t want to go through that again,” Goater said. “It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

Officials ended government ferry services and were closing a major road leading to the airport on Wednesday evening. They also opened a shelter at a high school with room for 100 people.

Schools were closed and ambulances on standby, a witness said.

The Atlantic storm season has picked up pace in recent weeks.

The Bahamas is still reeling from the devastation of Hurricane Dorian, and the remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda have moved inland across the Gulf coast of Texas and southeastern Louisiana as it weakened, bringing warnings of flash floods and heavy rains.

(Reporting by Don Burgess in Hamilton, Bermuda; Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Daina Beth Solomon and Stefanie Eschenbacher in Mexico City; Editing by Dan Grebler, Peter Cooney and Himani Sarkar)

Typhoon lashes Japanese capital, one dead, power, transport disrupted

Passengers are stranded after railways and subway operators suspended their services due to Typhoon Faxai, at Narita airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS

By Elaine Lies

TOKYO (Reuters) – One of the strongest typhoons to hit eastern Japan in recent years struck just east of the capital Tokyo on Monday, killing one woman, with record-breaking winds and stinging rain damaging buildings and disrupting transport.

More than 160 flights were canceled and scores of train lines closed for hours, snarling the morning commute for millions in a greater Tokyo area with a population of some 36 million.

Direct train service between Narita airport and the capital remained severely limited into the evening, with thousands of irritated travelers packed into a key transport hub for both the Rugby World Cup starting later this month and next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

“They simply had no contingency plan…,” one weary traveler who lives in Tokyo said of the scene, in which people crowded the exit areas and food ran out in airport stores.

“They let planes land … and thousands of passengers were disgorged into an airport that was cut off – no buses, no JR trains. The only connection was a private train running every half hour halfway to Tokyo.”

The man, who said he arrived just before 4 p.m. local time and only caught a bus at 7:30 p.m. after standing in line, added: “My wife said: what if this happens during the Olympics?”

Typhoon Faxai, a Lao woman’s name, slammed ashore near the city of Chiba shortly before dawn, bringing with it wind gusts of 207 kmh (128 mph), the strongest ever recorded in Chiba, national broadcaster NHK said.

A woman in her fifties was confirmed dead after she was found in a Tokyo street and taken to hospital. Footage from a nearby security camera showed she had been smashed against a building by strong winds, NHK reported.

Another woman in her 20s was rescued from her house in Ichihara, east of Tokyo, after it was partly crushed when a metal pole from a golf driving range fell on it. She was seriously injured.

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

A satellite broadcast television receiving antenna, which was blown away by strong winds caused by Typhoon Faxai, is seen on a street in Tokyo, Japan September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

“There was a huge grinding noise, I couldn’t figure out what it was. Then I looked up and saw a big hole in the roof, but I was so keyed up I couldn’t figure out what had happened,” a neighbor said.

Some minor landslides occurred and a bridge was washed away, while as many as 930,000 houses lost power at one point, NHK said, including the entire city of Kamogawa. But the number of homes without power had dropped to 840,000 by early Monday afternoon, the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry said.

Some concrete electric poles were snapped off at their bases, while electricity towers in Chiba were toppled over. Some panels of a floating solar power plant southeast of Tokyo were on fire.

The Japan Atomic Energy Agency said a cooling tower at its research reactor at Oarai, which has not been in operation since 2006 and is set to be decommissioned, had fallen, but there was no radiation leakage, impact on workers or the surrounding environment.

A Sony Corp <6758.T> spokesman said operations at its plant in Kisarazu, southeast of Tokyo, were suspended due to power outages. The company could not say when the plant, which assembles PlayStation gaming consoles, would reopen.

Two Nissan factories west of Tokyo, including its Oppama plant, suspended operations due to flooding, NHK said.

DESERTED STREETS

About four to five typhoons make landfall in Japan every year, but it is unusual for them to do so near Tokyo. NHK said Faxai was the strongest storm in the Tokyo area in several years.

Streets normally busy with commuters walking or bicycling were deserted, with winds just east of Tokyo shaking buildings.

Metal signs were torn from buildings, trucks overturned, the metal roof of a petrol station torn off and glass display cases destroyed, scattering sidewalks with broken glass.

Trees were uprooted throughout the metropolitan area, some falling on train tracks to further snarl transport.

Some 2,000 people were ordered to leave their homes at one point because of the danger of landslides, NHK said.

Parts of the high-speed Tokaido Shinkansen train line were halted but service resumed after several hours. It took hours for other lines to resume, packing stations with impatient commuters fanning themselves in the humid air.

Temperatures shot up to unseasonably hot levels in the wake of the storm, prompting authorities to warn of the danger of heatstroke.

(Reporting by Elaine Lies, Chris Gallagher, Linda sieg, Kiyoshi Takenaka and Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Robert Birsel/Mark Heinrich)

Widespread blackout hits Venezuela, government blames ‘electromagnetic attack’

People wait for transportation outside a closed metro station during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

CARACAS (Reuters) – More than half of Venezuela’s 23 states lost power on Monday, according to Reuters witnesses and reports on social media, a blackout the government blamed on an “electromagnetic attack.”

A man uses a flashlight to illuminate a woman boarding her car at a parking garage during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

A man uses a flashlight to illuminate a woman boarding her car at a parking garage during a blackout in Caracas, Venezuela July 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins

It was the first blackout to include the capital, Caracas, since March, when the government blamed the opposition and United States for a series of power outages that left millions of people without running water and telecommunications.

The blackouts exacerbated an economic crisis that has halved the size of the economy.

Venezuelan Information Minister Jorge Rodriguez said the outage on Monday was caused by an “electromagnetic attack,” without providing evidence. He added that authorities were in the process of re-establishing service.

Power returned for about 10 minutes to parts of southeastern Bolivar state, site of the Guri hydroelectric dam – the source of most of Venezuela’s generation – but went out again, according to a Reuters witness. Electricity was still out throughout Caracas.

“It terrifies me to think we are facing a national blackout again,” said Maria Luisa Rivero, a 45-year-old business owner from the city of Valencia, in the central state of Carabobo.

“The first thing I did was run to freeze my food so that it does not go bad like it did like the last time in March. It costs a lot to buy food just to lose it,” she said.

The oil-rich country’s hyperinflationary economic crisis has led to widespread shortages in food and medicine, prompting over 4 million Venezuelans to leave the country.

Venezuela’s national power grid has fallen into disrepair after years of inadequate investment and maintenance, according to the opposition and power experts.

“These blackouts are catastrophic,” said 51-year-old janitor Bernardina Guerra, who lives in Caracas. “I live in the eastern part of the city and there the lights go out every day. Each day things are worse.”

(Reporting by Tibisay Romero in Valencia, Deisy Buitrago in Caracas, and Maria Ramirez in Puerto Ordaz ; Writing by Angus Berwick and Sarah Kinosian; Editing by G Crosse and Peter Cooney)

Heatwave broils eastern, central U.S., utilities poised for demand

Visitors from Chile, Emilia Aguirre, 14, Beatriz Catalan, 14, and Magdalena Chahuan, 15, walk during a hot day in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S. July 18, 2019. REUTERS/Mary F. Calvert

By Barbara Goldberg

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A massive heat wave that has enveloped the U.S. Midwest pushed into the Northeast on Friday, ushering in temperatures that could top 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38&deg;C) in Washington, D.C., and leading utilities to take steps to prevent power outages.

The huge blob of warm air is likely to blanket the region, home to a third of the U.S. population, through Sunday with little overnight relief, said meteorologist David Roth of the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“There are 124 million people under a heat advisory or excessive heat warning – that’s a third of the population,” Roth said.

As of Friday, the heatwave sprawled from Kansas to the Atlantic Coast, and from South Carolina north to Maine. It was expected to intensify on Saturday and Sunday.

Utilities in the eastern half of the United States expect to have enough resources to meet power demand on Friday but asked consumers to turn down air conditioners to avoid putting stress on the system, which could cause outages.

“I’m very confident,” Consolidated Edison Inc President Tim Cawley said when asked at a press conference in New York, if the utility, which serves New York City, could quickly respond to any outages in the country’s largest city. He said 4,000 employees were poised to work 12-hour shifts over the weekend.

On Saturday, parts of Manhattan lost power for hours, darkening Broadway theaters and closing restaurants and shops in a partial blackout blamed on a faulty piece of equipment.

There were no major outages Friday morning anywhere in the United States, according to the PowerOutage.US website.

Temperatures on Friday were forecast to reach 100 degrees Fahrenheit in Washington, 97 degrees F in Philadelphia and 91 degrees F in New York, where it would feel more like 110 degrees F with high humidity, Roth said.

The dangers posed by extreme heat and humidity prompted officials to scrap outdoor competitions, including Saturday’s horse races at Saratoga Race Course in upstate New York and Sunday’s New York City Triathlon.

To keep cool during past heat waves, suburban children typically run under lawn sprinklers and city kids frolic in the spray of fire hydrants but the New York City Fire Department warned special spray caps that firehouses hand out should be used to avoid creating a hazard.

“If you open a fire hydrant without these caps, you endanger your neighbors because the water pressure drops and our firefighters are not able to fight fires,” FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro said on social media.

(Additional reporting by Scott DiSavino and Henry Nichols in New York; Editing by Bill Trott and Marguerita Choy)