(Reuters) - A heat wave baking the eastern United States in record temperatures is set to continue on Sunday after deadly storms killed at least 12 people, downed power lines from Indiana to Maryland and left more than 3 million customers without power.
Emergencies were declared in Washington D.C., Ohio, Virginia and West Virginia on Saturday because of damage from overnight storms, which unleashed hurricane-force winds across a 500-mile (800-km) stretch of the mid-Atlantic region.
President Barack Obama authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, to coordinate all disaster relief efforts in storm-ravaged Ohio.
The storms' rampage was followed by roasting temperatures that topped 100 Fahrenheit (38 Celsius) in several southern cities, including Atlanta, where the mercury hit 106 degrees (41 Celsius), according to Accuweather.com.
Heat advisories remained in effect into Sunday across the southeast and lower half of the Mississippi valley, with "triple-digit temperatures expected across the southern third of the country," the National Weather Service said.
"It is very unsafe outdoors for those susceptible to these extreme conditions," it warned in a statement.
Power crews worked into the night to try to restore service to homes and businesses, and officials said in some areas the job could take up to a week. Utilities in Ohio, Virginia and Maryland described damage to their power grids as catastrophic.
Six people were killed in Virginia in storm-related incidents, and more than 1 million customers were left without power in the worst outage not linked to a hurricane in the state's history, said Bob Spieldenner, a spokesman for the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.
Two Maryland residents died in the storm - one struck by a falling tree in Anne Arundel County, the other electrocuted after a tree crashed into a house in Montgomery County - said state emergency management agency spokesman Edward Hopkins.
In New Jersey, two cousins aged 2 and 7 were killed by a falling tree in a state park. And in eastern Tennessee, heat was blamed for the deaths of two brothers, ages 3 and 5, in Bradley County. They had been playing outside in 105-degree Fahrenheit (41-degree Celsius) heat.
OUTAGES ACROSS MARYLAND
In Maryland, about 800,000 customers lost power, with outages reported throughout the state, Hopkins said.
Ohio, where one storm-related death was reported, faced similar difficulties. Outages hit two-thirds of the state with about 1 million homes and businesses left without electricity. Governor John Kasich said it could take a week to fully restore power.
West Virginia was also hard hit by storm-related outages, with about 614,000 customers without power, said Terrance Lively, spokesman for the state emergency management agency.
Further north, the storm caused outages from Indiana, where 135,000 customers lost power, to New Jersey, where Atlantic County declared a state of emergency and at least 206,000 customers were without power.
Blazing temperatures in New York, where thermometer readings were in the 90s (32-38 Celsius) on Saturday, came ahead of a possible strike by 8,500 Consolidated Edison workers over a new contract.
The union membership had authorized its leaders to call a strike at midnight Saturday, when their collective bargaining agreement was to expire, although talks continued beyond the deadline.
"Talks continuing," a union representative said in a text message early Sunday. "Everyone hold tight until further notice. Whatever It Takes!"
If the 8,500 Con Ed workers do walk off, that would leave managers and any crews the company can hire to fix whatever problems arise as 8.2 million New Yorkers crank up their air conditioners to beat the heat.
Records for June were broken on Friday in Washington; Atlanta; Nashville, Tennessee; and Louisville, Kentucky. The temperature hit at least 104 F (40 C) in all four cities, according to the National Weather Service.