More than a million customers in the storm-hit United States remained without power Wednesday, as cancelled firework displays and no air conditioning made for a miserable July 4 holiday for many Americans.
A fierce band of thunderstorms, packing hurricane-force winds, tore across the country on Friday, wreaking havoc from Illinois to Ohio to Kentucky, and causing particularly widespread destruction in and around the capital Washington.
Falling trees snapped power lines and companies struggled to get power back to many families, sweating again in sweltering conditions on Wednesday as the mercury soared back above 32 degrees Celsius.
At least four planned fireworks displays were cancelled in Maryland because of the outages, with officials saying they couldn't spare police and fire resources for the festivities.
In Rockville, Md., officials called off their celebration because trees and wires were blocking two of the three entrances to the college campus where fireworks were planned. In Gaithersburg, Md., Acting City Manager Tony Tomasello said his city, about 30 minutes north of Washington, cancelled its display because a power company is using its planned celebration location, a fairgrounds, as a staging area for repairs. Hundreds of bucket trucks park there when crews finish their 16-hour shifts, and transformers, gravel and poles are being stored there too.
West Virginia, one of nine states impacted by the inclement weather, had the highest number of customers without power at roughly 317,000, according to a release from the U.S. Department of Energy Wednesday morning.
Some 20 deaths are attributed to the weather.
Traditional barbecue events had to be rearranged as partygoers looked for respite in cooling shelters.
The National Weather Service, meanwhile, warned of large hail and damaging winds in the Great Lakes region, especially in northern Minnesota, potentially throwing a wrench into festivities there.
In Chicago, the sizzling heat could make this year’s holiday the hottest in a century.
Elsewhere, in arid areas such as the western state of Colorado where wildfires have been raging, community firework celebrations, an annual draw for young and old alike, were scrapped to avoid sparking more blazes that have left hundreds homeless.
The election heat was also intensifying as President Barack Obama and Republican rival Mitt Romney sought to capitalize on the patriotic undertones of the day, which marks the 236th year of independence from British rule.
Obama held a naturalization ceremony for active duty members in the White House mid-morning and was expected to host a barbecue complete with a concert and fireworks later in the day.
“You’re one of the reasons why, even after two centuries, America is always young, always looking to the future, always confident that our greatest days are still to come,” Obama said.
Romney, taking a week off to spend time with his family at an upscale lakeside property in Wolfeboro, N.H., was due to participate in a parade in the New England town as cameras rolled.
“With so many around the world still consigned to tyranny, the Fourth of July is a time to appreciate the blessing of liberty and be thankful that we are Americans.”
Despite the dire scenarios faced by many, large scale celebrations were still going forward in cities like New York and Boston.
In New York, about a dozen disabled soldiers — most triple or quadruple amputees — visited Ground Zero ahead of the usual throng of tourists. The visit was intended to salute service members who survived the post-9/11 wars to become miracles of modern medicine, and to promote two charities raising money for homes custom-built to ease their burdens.
Quirky Fourth of July traditions also were not to be missed.
On Coney Island, Joey Chestnut ate his way to a sixth straight win at the Fourth of July hot-dog eating contest, tying his personal best in a sweaty, gag-inducing spectacle. The 28-year-old, nicknamed Jaws, scarfed down 68 hot dogs in 10 minutes in the sweltering summer heat to take home $10,000 (U.S.) and the mustard-yellow belt.