New York Takes Action to Handle Heat Wave

As temperatures approach 100 degrees, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg takes several city facilities off the electrical grid and asks residents to conserve. Utilities say they have the generating capacity to handle increased demand, but questions remain about the distribution grid.

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DON GONYEA, host:

The northeast is once again expected to be blistering hot today. Temperatures in New York City are forecast to top 100.

Yesterday, demand for electricity there during peak evening hours hit an all-time record, and after a recent power outage in Queens, the city is taking urgent measures to keep New Yorkers cool and prevent a blackout.

NPR's Anne Hawke reports.

ANNE HAWKE reporting:

To understand how truly punishing this heat wave is, you need to step out of the frying pan of New York City's streets and into the fiery inferno of its subway tunnels - where riders are wilting on platforms, fanning themselves until deliverance arrives.

(Soundbite of subway announcement)

A cool train takes the edge off for Veronica Baez(ph), a 29 year old from the Bronx - at least enough for a giggle as she describes the air for someone who's not here to feel it.

Ms. VERONICA BAEZ (New Yorker): Someone put their head in a oven when it's on boil. That's how it feels.

HAWKE: To manage the heat emergency, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has taken several city facilities off the electrical grid, placing some wastewater treatment plants and corrections facilities on generators, and turning off lights at ferry terminals, bridges, and city landmarks.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG (New York City): Decorative lights will be turned off on the Empire State and Chrysler buildings. Rockrose Development Corp. will also turn off the famous Pepsi-Cola sign on the East River.

HAWKE: Utility companies say there's plenty of power supply, and even a reserve. But they're giving businesses special incentives to reduce demand and asking consumers to conserve, too. Power officials are still analyzing last month's outage in Queens, where high voltage cables failed leaving tens of thousands of people without power for over a week.

Stan Johnson, of the North American Electric Reliability Council, says the region's electrical grid is holding up well and the system is more effective than it was before the northeast blackout three years ago.

Mr. STAN JOHNSON (North American Electric Reliability Council): We learned a lot from what happened in August of 2003. That was not a peak load day. On that day, the temperatures were in the 80s. That was a kind of an average day for us, but we had a number of problems. And we think we have addressed all of those.

HAWKE: Problems like power grid computers freezing up, or electrical operators not paying attention. But despite reassurances that those problems have been fixed, New York City officials want to do everything possible to prevent a blackout.

Bloomberg is urging the city to avoid straining the system.

Mayor BLOOMBERG: I walked into an office this morning in City Hall. The air conditioner was on. I turned it off. Come on, we're all in this together. And only together, if everybody pitches in, will we get through this.

HAWKE: Bloomberg warned residents not to strain themselves either. He told them to drink lots of water, avoid exercising outdoors, and consider summer school optional. He cautioned against dehydration and urged New Yorkers to call 911 if they experience nausea, disorientation, and headaches.

Anne Hawke, NPR News, New York.

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