Thunderstorms gave parched crops life-saving baths from the Midwest to the East yesterday as back-to-back heat waves gripped parts of the Plains and of the Midwest.

Two consecutive heat waves have been blamed for 188 deaths.

A state of emergency was maintained in Oklahoma after eight days of 100-plus temperatures. Powerful thunderstorms stirred up by hot air were reported across the state, packing wind gusts to 50 mph.

Gov. George Nigh ordered daily inspections for excessive heat at all nursing homes and boarding houses, and urged mayors and city officials to keep "all public facilities" open seven days a week as shelters from the heat.

Overcast skies and scattered showers kept temperatures from rising above the 90-degree mark in St. Louis, prompting health officials to begin closing some of the 19 "cooling centers" that allowed residents to escape the 100-degree heat.

St. Louis has had 51 heat-related deaths since the oppressive temperatures bore down more than two weeks ago.

Thunderstorms pounded central South Dakota, with 60 mph winds blasting Gettysburg early yesterday.

Thundershowers drenched Florida, with more than an inch of rain in Homestead, Miami and Vero Beach.

Cook County Coroner Robert Stein ruled that the deaths of four people in a nursing home in Chicago were homicides. He said they would have lived had it not been for the 105-degree heat, which resulted from an air-conditioning breakdown.

Four operators of a Eufaula, Okla., boarding home where a woman died of heat stroke pleaded innocent to second-degree manslaughter charges. The water temperature in the woman's room was measured at 107 degrees.

Overnight storms brought relief to crops in Illinois and in parts of New York State.

New York crops had withered under only .22 inches of rain this month. "I know the farmers around here are all smiles today," meteorologist Yom Niziol of the Buffalo Weather Service office said.