New Yorkers scramble for ways to beat first summer heat wave

The heat wave hovering over the Northeast has slammed hard into New York City - from the concrete canyons and tenement housing of Manhattan to the more bucolic setting of Staten Island.

New Yorkers find various ways to cope with the weather. Sales of air conditioners and fans have leaped. An employee at Ace Air Conditioning Service Corporation in Queens said the business was swamped, and she didn't have time to answer any questions. A Long Island resident went to an appliance store on Sunday to buy a dishwasher, and found people lined up to buy air conditioners.

''Nobody was interested in helping us,'' says the woman. ''People were walking out with two and three air conditioners.''

One Manhattan banker reports that his biggest concern is how to get from his air-conditioned apartment to his air-conditioned office without getting hot and sweaty.

''I find a $2.50 cab ride is worth it,'' he says.

But many poorer New Yorkers cannot beat the heat so easily.

Amy Haus of the Coalition for the Homeless says that people assume that summer weather is no problem for the homeless. She points out that many shelters have too few showers per person, and that people who are not in shelters have no resources at all.

''These are not just tattery and ragged men, but the elderly and mothers with children,'' she says.

''Some of these people are striving to get jobs, and then they don't get much sleep in the heat.''

Ms. Haus reports that some groups are aware of the problems and seek to help the homeless. Volunteers in Manhattan's Washington Heights are planning to carry cold drinks to people on the streets.

The biggest problem for city officials has been water pressure.

Increased use and the opening of fire hydrants has prompted the city's Department of Environmental Protection to impose a ''water alert,'' with police and DEP crews out closing the hydrants.

Although the city's water supply is near 100 percent of capacity, says William Andrews of the DEP, the drop in pressure has interrupted service in outlying areas, such as eastern Queens and Brooklyn, Staten Island, and Brooklyn's Bay Ridge section.

Overall water use increases during the summer, but it is the opening of fire hydrants, usually by youths seeking relief from the 90-degree plus heat, that causes the jump in water flow.

''On weekends from noon on, there are big leaps every hour,'' says Mr. Andrews. He says that the situation stabilizes over night, and on weekdays the heavy increase doesn't begin until around 3 p.m., when schoolchildren come home.

DEP has around 100 workers out in the field until midnight during the hot weather closing off the hydrants. The city also asks residents not to use water for lawn watering, car washing, or filling pools between the hours of 11 a.m. and 7 p.m.

The disruption of water service during a fire emergency is a concern, Andrews says. But, he adds, there are water supplies with standby capacity available near the affected areas.

The city's Emergency Medical Services has also answered a higher number of calls. The city's chief medical examiner reported three heat-related deaths over the weekend.

The heat wave is expected to last several more days, although thunder showers predicted for Monday night may bring temperatures down somewhat.

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