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Trying to keep their cool

With the sun beating down and mercury in the mid-90s, Tamika Gilliard and her 8-year-old daughter were looking for relief yesterday - and they found it in the cool waters of the Swann Fountain in Logan Square.

With the sun beating down and mercury in the mid-90s, Tamika Gilliard and her 8-year-old daughter were looking for relief yesterday - and they found it in the cool waters of the Swann Fountain in Logan Square.

"It's an inexpensive way of having fun - and saving on my electric bill at home," said Gilliard, 27, of West Philadelphia, as sprays of water splashed nearby.

"If you can't afford running the air conditioning or going to a pool, this is a good way of cooling off."

Across the region, Gilliard was not the only one trying to beat the heat - or make the best of it.

Thousands of spectators in shorts and T-shirts turned out to watch cyclists in the Commerce Bank Philadelphia International Cycling Championship. Along the race route - from Logan Square to Manayunk - many doused themselves with sunscreen, gulped icy drinks, and crowded into shady patches.

In Germantown, Iraq war veterans kept hydrated as they helped a middle school by cleaning up a field of bamboo.

The brutal heat - the temperature rose to 95 at Philadelphia International Airport - was expected to hang on until Wednesday, when a weak front will drop temperatures into the 80s. The temperature will hit 99 degrees today and 96 tomorrow, forecasters said.

The Philadelphia Health Department yesterday issued an excessive heat warning - for the second day in a row - triggering the operation of the heat help line of the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging. The warning will continue through tomorrow.

Call-takers on the help line offer advice on how to stay safe in the heat and feel more comfortable, said Jeff Moran, spokesman for the city Health Department.

"If there is a need, the call is passed to a Health Department nurse who makes an assessment on whether to make an on-site visit," he said. When a visit is necessary, he said, a nurse and health inspector will conduct "a physical and environmental assessment."

Representatives of the city's Office of Special Housing and other private agencies were reaching out to the homeless to offer water and encourage them to go to shelters.

By early evening yesterday, with the temperature finally beginning to drop, no heat deaths had been reported.

The sultry weather weighed on the cyclists and spectators alike during the grueling bike race. Bob McCue, 73, and his grandson Kyle Tucker, 8, sat along the famed Manayunk Wall, watching cyclists climb the forbidding incline and marveling at their stamina in the heat.

"This might be the last time I can walk up this hill," joked McCue, of Phoenixville, fanning himself.

Farther along the race course, at Bethany Lutheran Church at Martin and Pechin Streets, sales of hot dogs and sauerkraut were down from previous years, said Linda Wiedmann, president of the congregation.

"It's a slow day," Wiedmann said. "I blame the weather."

In Germantown, the midday heat did little to slow more than a dozen Army veterans of the Iraq war who volunteered to uproot a grove of bamboo next to the Hill Freedman Middle School. School officials were glad to clear the area after assaults and pit-bull attacks had been reported there.

"This here is 97 degrees today," said Staff Sgt. Michael Bishop, who was supervising the project. "In Iraq, our thermometers stopped working at 140."

Still, the soldiers faced a problem that they didn't have in Iraq: humidity. They took breaks drinking water in the shade. "In Iraq, you wouldn't see us sweating," Bishop said.

At Logan Square in Center City, people of all ages stayed cool by catching a misty breeze from the fountain or wading through the water.

Gail Levine, who makes regular trips from her Brooklyn, N.Y., home to Philadelphia to enjoy the city's attractions with her husband, had put on a two-piece swimsuit and took a dip.

"The kids have the right idea," said Levine, who said she was a baby boomer. "This is great way to cool off regardless of how old you are."

Nearby, four-year-old Haley, a mixed-breed terrier, splashed into the water. Her owner, Dayna Federici, 29, had come to the fountain to see the cyclists.

"I wanted to give Haley a walk, see the bikes quickly, then catch the rest inside on television," said Federici, who lives in the city's Fairmount section. "It's so hot out here."

Neal and Melissa Plaskonos of Pennington, N.J., got in the water with their 3-year-old twins, Ella and Nathan, and 1-year-old son, Myles.

"I used to come here as a kid," said Neal Plaskonos, a former Marine who grew up in Langhorne. "This is perfect."

He had scheduled the family's whole day - and it began and ended in the water.

"We see an [cycling] event and hit the fountain, then we have lunch in Chinatown," he said. "After that, we hit the fountain again on the way back."

Heat Help

For heat-beating tips and help with heat-related health concerns, call the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging's 24-hour help line at 215-765-9040. A free service of Philadelphia's lead senior-services agency, the help line takes calls from throughout the region.