Nearly 150 million people sweltering through deadly US heat wave

People enjoy the Astoria Pool on a hot afternoon in the borough of Queens, New York City, on July 20, 2019. (AFP)
Updated 21 July 2019

Nearly 150 million people sweltering through deadly US heat wave

  • Climate data showed June was the hottest month on record worldwide, with a heat wave across Europe smashing national records

WASHINGTON: The United States was sweating through a weekend of dangerously hot weather, with major cities including New York, Philadelphia and Washington experiencing temperatures approaching 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius).
An oppressive heat wave stretching from the Midwestern plains to the Atlantic coast had nearly 150 million people struggling to stay cool amid scorching temperatures.
Heat index values — combining the effect of heat and humidity — could reach 110 to 115 degrees, particularly in the east, the National Weather Service (NWS) said.
It warned that “dangerously high temperatures and humidity could quickly cause heat stress or heat stroke if precautions are not taken.”
The heat was expected to continue through late Sunday as a high-pressure system off the Atlantic coast ushered in steamy, subtropical air.
People were being urged to stay hydrated, watch out for the sick and the elderly, stay inside as much as possible and not leave children or animals in cars.
The heat wave already claimed at least three lives, including two earlier in the week in the eastern state of Maryland.
In Arkansas, former NFL player Mitch Petrus died Thursday after working outside his family’s shop. The 32-year-old died of heat stroke, the Pulaski County coroner was quoted as saying in US media.
Heat warnings have also been issued for parts of eastern Canada.
In New York, Mayor Bill de Blasio declared a heat emergency.
The New York City Triathlon, which had been scheduled for Sunday, was canceled for the first time since its founding in 2001.
The estimated 4,000 participants, many of whom had traveled long distances to race, will receive full refunds of entry fees of up to $399, organizers said.
The two-day OZY Fest, a food, comedy and music festival set for Central Park this weekend, was also called off.
In Washington, a popular outdoor jazz concert at the National Galley of Art was canceled.
New York City opened 500 cooling centers for residents.
“Saturday is going to be really, really bad, on through Sunday,” de Blasio said in a warning to the city. “This is serious, serious stuff.”
At least three public defenders said on Twitter that inmates in New York’s notorious Rikers Island jail complex were suffering with no air conditioning, and that some guards had turned off fans as punishment, resulting in “deadly conditions.”
The Brooklyn Defender Services legal aid group said some inmates didn’t have summer clothing, only long underwear provided by the group last winter.
Top officials from the city’s Department of Corrections were at the facility monitoring the response to the heat wave to “protect health and safety of everyone in the facility,” De Blasio wrote on Twitter.
The department said in a statment to AFP that extra staff were on hand to distribute summer clothing, and clinics were open around the clock to treat heat-related symptoms.
Those in units without air conditioning were given access to fans, ice, water and “multiple cool showers.”
The city’s electrical grid was so far handling the extra demand, which came just a week after a major outage, blamed on mechanical problems, left tens of thousands of Manhattan residents in the dark.
In Washington, the morning low of 81 degrees was just one degree below the record set in 2015, with “a good chance to hit 100 today for the first time since 2016,” The Washington Post reported.
Triple-digit temperatures in the US Northeast are unusual.
The Philadelphia Inquirer suggested, tongue in cheek, that locals might want to seek relief in normally sweltering Miami or Phoenix, which would be up to 25 degrees cooler.
Philadelphia looked likely to set a new record for the hottest July 20 since 1930.
In Boston, where the weather service said that Saturday and Sunday would be “major scorchers,” city officials scrapped entry fees at public pools.
In the far northwest, temperatures soared earlier this month in the state of Alaska, which straddles the Arctic Circle, with largest city Anchorage hitting an all-time high of 90 degrees.
Earlier in the week, the National Weather Service office in the Midwestern city of Omaha baked a tray of biscuits — savory breakfast bread similar to scones — on the dashboard of a parked car. After nearly eight hours and with temperatures on the pan reaching 185 degrees, the pastries were almost fully cooked.
Climate data showed June was the hottest month on record worldwide, with a heat wave across Europe smashing national records.


France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

Updated 18 January 2020

France calls for international consensus on Libya peace process

  • French President Emmanuel Macron due in Berlin on Sunday for the start of crisis summit
  • Priority is ceasefire and negotiations between government and Libyan army, says diplomatic source

French President Emmanuel Macron will arrive in Berlin on Sunday to take part in an international summit that aims to find a peaceful solution to the crisis in Libya.

Ahead of the gathering, a French diplomatic source on Friday said the hope is that an international consensus can be reached to stabilize the situation, despite the differing goals of the participants. With a growing number of nations and groups actively involved in Libya, their goals need to be clarified, he added. France is participating in part to follow up on previous commitments it has made, he said, which need to be reconfirmed given the current volatile situation.

The source said that in light of the power struggle that has developed between the national unity government in Tripoli, led by Prime Minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army, commanded by Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar, which occupies about 80 per cent of the country, Macron will raise a number of issues, including: the necessity of ending the fighting between both sides in and around Tripoli, the only part of the country Haftar does not control; and the need for Al-Sarraj and Haftar to agree to negotiations within a framework agreed by the Berlin summit.

In addition to France, the participants in the peace conference include the US, Russia, China, the UK, Germany, Italy, the UAE, Turkey and a number of other African and Arab nations and organizations.

Despite the volatile backdrop against which it takes place, there are hopes that a peaceful solution is still possible if an internationally brokered agreement can be reached for a ceasefire and reconciliation process. Otherwise, it is feared Libya will become another battleground for warring regional and global powers.

The French diplomatic source said the conditions for a ceasefire were set by the UN Security Council in August last year, but that Russia, Turkey and Al-Sarraj have added additional conditions that are unacceptable to Haftar. The view from Paris, he added, is that any attempt to negotiate a ceasefire must be on realistic terms, and the priority is to prevent any escalation in fighting or expansion of the forces at war in the country. With this in mind, the announcement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he is sending troops to Tripoli is very worrying, he added.

The source said that if the peace effort is to succeed, all international powers need to take responsibility for their role in reaching a consensus to ensure stability, regardless of which side they support in the conflict.

He also called on all nations to respect an existing UN embargo on the supply of arms to the warring factions in Libya. The country is at risk of falling prey to many disruptive influences, he added, and the fear is that should the efforts to kick start peace negotiations fail, the flood gates will open and arms and troops will pour in. The country is on the brink of a total collapse that can only be prevented by a ceasefire, followed by an agreed political process to negotiate peace, he said.