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Scorching temperatures on Eastern Seaboard herald summer's arrival

Temperatures hit the high 90s along the Eastern Seaboard on Wednesday as a hot spell heralded the official start of summer, with people wilting at graduation ceremonies, students trying to learn in suffocating classrooms and authorities warning folks to check on elderly neighbors.

According to the National Weather Service, the temperature was 93 degrees in New York City's Central Park, but with humidity it felt like 97. In Boston, it felt like 100 but was 93. In Washington, it felt like 101 but was 97.

The hot spell arrived right on time -- on the summer solstice and longest day of the year -- in a region that's home to some of the nation's most densely populated cities.

Health officials warned residents to drink water, stay out of the sun and in air conditioning, and to check on elderly neighbors and pets. Public cooling centers have been set up in dozens of cities for those without air conditioning.

Several relatives of high school graduates were treated for heat exhaustion at an outdoor ceremony in North Bergen, N.J., and taken to a hospital. Ambulances were on standby at the event, which was held outside to accommodate about 5,000 people, said Capt. Gerald Sanzari of the North Bergen Police Department.

A similar scene took place in New Britain, Conn., where several people were taken to a hospital after suffering heat-related symptoms while attending the New Britain High School graduation. Capt. David Koscuk of the New Britain EMS told the New Britain Herald that 24 people suffered from heat exhaustion or fainting and half of them were taken to area hospitals.

In Howell, N.J., school officials made Wednesday the last day of the school year instead of Thursday, citing the heat. And at nearby Wall High School, people attending the graduation ceremony will be able to watch a remote broadcast inside the air-conditioned building.

In a rare bending of the rules, the Metro in Washington, D.C., said passengers on Wednesday and today would be allowed to drink water, an exception to their no-drinks policy. The National Weather Service said the temperature at Washington National Airport was 95 degrees just before 2 p.m., though it felt like 99.

Deborah Otchere, 59, mapped out a tree-lined route to work and brought a change of clothes to her job as a secretary in a Washington law firm. Among her traveling supplies was a partially frozen bottle of water.

"You live here long enough, you know how to prepare," she said.

More than 450 cooling centers were being opened around New York City, which is under a hot weather advisory with an expected high of 94 degrees. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg encouraged people without air conditioning to seek out the cooler spaces or visit the city's beaches.

In Philadelphia, the city's highs in the next couple of days could break decades-old records of 98 degrees, set in 1931, and 99, set in 1923. Normally, the high for Philadelphia is about 84 degrees.