By Jonathan Allen
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Record-breaking temperatures spiked into the 90s on the first day of summer on Wednesday, sending children facing an untimely ice cream shortage to seek relief in the spray of fire hydrants in New York while in New Jersey ambulances raced to an overheated school graduation ceremony.
Warnings abounded, from health officials urging the public to stay hydrated to utilities girding for excess power demand from air conditioners.
The temperature at La Guardia Airport was among many record setters: 98 degrees, breaking a previous record high for June 20 of 96 degrees in 1953. The National Weather Service issued a heat advisory and said it would remain in effect until Thursday evening.
"It's hot. Caliente," Rafael Leon, 85, a retired mail handler said as he sought refuge in one of the 455 cooling centers that opened in New York City for the first time this year.
In New Jersey, two students from North Bergen High School fainted during an outdoor graduation ceremony at a football field on Wednesday morning, said Philip Swibinski, a spokesman for North Bergen township. They were treated for heat exhaustion by paramedics before being taken to a nearby hospital as a precaution.
One Long Island lawmaker seized on the heat of the moment to lash out at the maker of Good Humor's popular ice cream bars Toasted Almond, Cookies and Cream and Chocolate Éclair, which are suddenly nearly impossible to find aboard neighborhood ice cream trucks due to a shortage. Saying "over 10,000 children and families" on Long Island alone could suffer, Nassau County legislator David Denenberg started a petition drive on Wednesday to demand the company quickly fill the void.
A spokesman for Good Humor, which is owned by Unilever, blamed the shortage on a warm spring during which customers ate into stock as well as production change from one plant to another. The flavors can still be found at grocery stores, he said, but the ice cream-truck versions of the treats, which are larger than the store versions and made on a different production line, were unlikely to be available until mid-summer.
MOVING LESS, SAVING ENERGY
New Yorkers found other ways to beat the heat on Wednesday. Outside one of the cooling centers - the Los Sures Senior Center in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn - children soaked themselves in the spray of an open fire hydrant while adults sat in the shade with damp cloths on their heads, trying not to move much. Inside the center, the air was comfortably chilled, as about three dozen seniors played bingo, dominoes and pool over the hum of air conditioners set to 64 degrees.
Leon settled into the center's comfortable air with a cup of hot coffee as he waited for his turn at a pool table.
"It doesn't bother me too much. I'm from a hot country - Puerto Rico," he said.
Still, he said, he was glad not to be running up an electricity bill running his air conditioner at home.
The New York Power Authority said it was activating its Demand Response Program , whereby offices run by the city and state are paid to lower their energy consumption during the day.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority in turn warned commuters that, with less electricity to go round, its trains might be running a little slower in the afternoon, and some escalators and elevators might be switched off.
New Jersey's Public Service Electric and Gas Company said it was prepared for a spike in demand, and that power supplies were running normally as of midday Wednesday.
(Editing by Barbara Goldberg)