By Stephen Singer
The Associated Press
SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — A third day of unseasonable heat blistered the eastern half of the country Thursday, making tornado cleanup miserable in Massachusetts and sending country music fans in Tennessee to hospitals, while the surge in demand for energy knocked out power to sections of downtown Detroit.
Relief was on the way in the Northeast, however, as an approaching cold front triggered evening thunderstorms. Tens of thousands lost power in parts of New England as the storms passed through.
The persistent heat and resulting storms has been blamed for at least eight deaths from the Plains to the East Coast, where authorities prepared emergency rooms and encouraged neighbors to check on the elderly as temperatures soared above 100 in spots.
Detroit officials intentionally cut power to city hall and a convention center Thursday to prevent the municipal power system from crashing from high energy demand — even though temperatures had tapered to the 70s after two days above 90. Equipment failures knocked out power to several other government buildings and traffic lights in parts of the downtown.
"Because there was a short window of time, we had to make a decision to take some of our customers off to prevent a blackout of the entire city," Detroit mayoral spokeswoman Karen Dumas said.
Some Northeastern schools canceled classes or closed early for a second day Thursday so students would not have to suffer with no air conditioning. Cooling centers opened in Chicago, Memphis, Tenn., Newark, N.J., and other cities as a refuge for those without air conditioning.
In New Jersey, records of 102 degrees were recorded at the Newark and Atlantic City airports, beating their respective previous records of 99 degrees and 98 degrees set in 2008. The temperature also reached 102 degrees at Ronald Reagan National Airport near Washington, matching a record set in 1874. Philadelphia hit 99 degrees, one degree higher than a record set in 1933.
"I'd love to be indoors, but I don't make any money that way," said Jose Serrano, a landscape worker cutting lawns and trimming bushes in Toms River, N.J. "When it comes to working in these conditions, you just do what you have to do, you know?"
In Springfield, chain saws whirred amid high heat and humidity as workers cleared tree branches and other messes left by tornadoes that struck the area last week, killed three people and left hundreds living in shelters. The temperature hit 92 on Thursday.
As survivors sought clothing vouchers, diapers and other supplies, volunteers pressed cold water on them because many still lack electricity and thus refrigeration. Fire trucks passed out cases of water in addition to tarps for patching roofs.
Light clouds provided scant relief for the volunteers frequently seeking shade in Red Cross tents.
"The heat is certainly making it a little more impossible," said Linda-Jo Perks, co-commanding officer of the Springfield branch of the Salvation Army.
While the Northeast began seeing some relief late Thursday as a cold front swept through with cooler, drier air, the scorching heat was to linger for days in the South. Music fans in Tennessee had that to keep in mind as three major festivals commenced.
The four-day Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival began Thursday, with 80,000 general admission tickets sold for the event being held on a 700-acre farm about 60 miles southeast of Nashville. In Chattanooga, 600,000 people are expected over nine days at the Riverbend Festival.
Alberta Kelly of New Brunswick in Canada attended her first County Music Association Festival Thursday in Nashville. After arriving, she promptly went shopping for sunglasses. The temperature was in the 90s.
"I wasn't prepared for this at all," she said. "It hit me pretty hard when I got off the plane. I also got sunburned."
Vanderbilt University Medical Center spokesman Jerry Jones said Thursday that about 50 people at the CMA fest were treated Wednesday, about half for heat-related conditions. Ambulances took three to hospitals.
In Waldorf, Md., several dozen students were overcome by heat while attending an event at a semi-pro baseball stadium. Charles County spokeswoman Crystal Hunt said 82 children were either treated at the stadium or taken to hospitals, and that the most seriously ill student, who showed symptoms of a heat stroke, was later released.
In Paterson, N.J., Dr. Mark Rosenberg of St. Joseph's Hospital said more than a dozen patients were treated there Wednesday for heat-related illnesses.
Authorities have blamed the heat and lightning from severe storms for deaths of eight people in Tennessee, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Missouri in recent days.
In Pennsylvania, lightning killed a 13-year-old boy who was in a field near his Chester County home Thursday night, emergency dispatchers said.
Officials on New York's Long Island reminded people to check on their relatives and friends, especially the elderly.
Outdoor activities challenged residents in the Northeast, where extreme heat this early in the season — summer's official beginning is still more than a week away — is rare.
With temperatures soaring above 90 in Concord, N.H., the recreation department canceled a fitness class held each week in White Park.
Andrea Wilson enjoyed the playground and the duck pond with her two young daughters as a few people lunched at shaded picnic tables at an otherwise deserted park.
"It's getting a little bit hot," Wilson said. "But it's nice to come and have the breeze off the pond and let the kids go to the playground and get in a little bit of shade under the trees over there.
"But it is hot, very hot," she said. "But they don't mind."
At the outdoor track at Penn State University in State College, Pa., Special Olympians made a beeline for blue 5-gallon water buckets before afternoon activities at the Franklin County games had even started. Down the street and around the corner, an electronic marquee flashed a temperature of 93 degrees.
No sweat, said Brittany Brumbaugh, 20, who was taking part in the mini-javelin and long jump events Thursday.
"It don't bother me a bit," said Brumbaugh, the front of her green shirt wet after playfully throwing a cup of water on a teammate who had bumped into her. "Just drink a lot of water."
At a temporary petting zoo set up at the Olympics, Jennifer Zajaczkowski kept watch on a llama, two goats and Fern, the sheep — sheared the day before to keep cool.
"Yesterday, she was panting so bad that I actually was sponging under her armpits," Zajaczkowski said.
A heat emergency was issued in Cincinnati, where fans of the Reds and the Chicago Cubs tried to stay cool at Great American Ball Park. Kathryn Burke, of Pikeville, Ky., wore a straw hat and brought two bottles of frozen water and a mister.
"And I brought the knowledge to leave when I've had enough of the heat," she said.
Copyright 2013 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.
Contributing to this report were Associated Press writers Jessica Gresko, Brett Zongker and Randolph E. Schmid in Washington, Genaro C. Armas in State College, Pa., Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., Holly Ramer in Concord, N.H., Murray Evans in Oklahoma City, Bruce Shipkowski in Toms River, N.J., Josh Lederman in Trenton, N.J., Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, and Ed White in Detroit.