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Amid unrelenting heat, frustrations rise for tens of thousands still without power

Story highlights

  • Mayor of Charleston, West Virginia, reports damage after storms
  • About 1.7 million people are still without power in 10 states and Washington
  • The continued power outages are causing traffic headaches and safety concerns
  • At least 19 people are dead from storms fueled in part by the heat

Even as temperatures ticked down, barely, in some places Monday, frustrations rose for hundreds of thousands still sweating without power days after destructive heat-driven storms hit.

About 1.7 million people scattered from the District of Columbia through 10 states from Indiana to Delaware had no electricity by 8 p.m. Monday.

That was more than half those initially left in the dark Friday night and early Saturday. The total included about 410,000 in West Virginia, 400,000 in Ohio and 340,000 in Virginia. Power and government authorities said some may not get power back until week's end.

"While I want to thank them for their progress, they need to move faster," said Mayor Vincent Gray in Washington, where about 43,000 Pepco customers were without power.

"Pepco's pace of restoring power to me, anyway, is unacceptable. And the speed of their response is disappointing. How many times have we been through this before?"

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At least 16 people were killed from Ohio to New Jersey in the derecho -- or massive storm usually with straight-line wind damage -- while another three in North Carolina died in fresh storms Sunday.

"It was the scariest thing I've ever been through," CNN iReporter Mark Cohen said from Mays Landing, New Jersey, where the storms damaged his property and knocked out power. "Just to give you an idea, it was somewhere between a movie and a disaster ride at a park."

Hundreds of thousands were still coping Monday with days of relentless blistering weather and without air conditioning.

Pools were packed to start the week, as were libraries, malls and other places that still had power and the ability to keep things cool.

More extreme heat, headaches for central, eastern U.S.

Nick Brandon of Rockville, Maryland, told CNN affiliate WJLA that he's found little he can do to beat the heat.

"The three windows that I can open, it doesn't help at all," he said. "So I slept downstairs, where it was cooler, and it was still bad."

Utility workers are facing the heat, literally and figuratively. Pepco CEO Jim Rigby acknowledged to CNN on Monday that "we're not satisfied (and) won't be ... until we have everyone back."

And Josh Little, a crew supervisor for Dominion in Virginia, said his technicians have "been working around the clock doing storm restoration for almost six, seven days now."

"They get frustrated because they're not getting the lights on, as fast as they think they should," he said. "But they're only human beings. ... They're wearing down a little bit."

Triple-digit heat to scorch much of U.S. as many grapple without power

In and around Charleston, West Virginia, locals have been packing supermarkets and filling up nearby hotels in a bid to ride out the storm's aftermath and no electricity in homes, Mayor Danny Jones said.

"Up in the hills, there were so many trees down and the transformers were all tangled in the trees," said Jones, who is living in his garage with his two sons and still assessing the massive storm. "It was scary," Jones said.

Traffic lights remain out in many hard-hit locales, including around the nation's capital, causing yet another reason for headaches.

"A lot of detours, a lot of lights that are out (and) some that are spotty," said Larry Simmons, a frustrated commuter in southern Maryland. "A lot of congestion, a lot of discourteous drivers."

Some have found a silver lining thanks to neighbors, community leaders and others who have gone out of the way to help each other.

But kindness only goes so far.

"We like the sense of community, but we would like our power back -- just because it is so hot and we'd like to get back to normal, if we possibly can," said storm victim Bill Danvers in the Washington suburbs.

Will 2012 be the hottest summer on record?

Cities and towns in the Midwest, Mid-Atlantic and Southeast have endured temperatures in the high 90s and above 100 degrees since, in some cases, the middle of last week. It's all part of a system tied to the breaking or tying of more than 2,238 hot weather records nationwide between June 25 and July 1, according to the National Climatic Data Center.

And it won't necessarily let up anytime soon. The National Weather Service is warning of "dangerous heat" topping 100 degrees through Saturday in places including St. Louis, while it should still very much feel like summer for most of the country's eastern two-thirds through Independence Day and perhaps beyond.

"Hot and hotter will continue to be the story from the Plains to the Atlantic Coast the next few days," the weather service reported Monday. "Widespread excessive heat warnings and heat advisories have certainly decreased in coverage, but temperatures will remain well above average across a large portion of the U.S."

It's all made for many uncomfortable moments.

Yet many like Phi Ley, an Arlington, Virginia, resident who came back from a vacation to a roasting house with no power, are just trying to roll with the punches.

"It's nature. It happens," he said.

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