Deadly heat wave stretching across 18 states moves practices indoors, pushes work to nighttime

By Holbrook Mohr, AP
Thursday, August 5, 2010

Deadly heat wave stretches across 18 states

JACKSON, Miss. — A dangerous heat wave baked a large swath of the nation from Texas to New York on Thursday, forcing football players to move practice sessions into the evening and election officials in Tennessee to lure voters with air-conditioned polling places.

High humidity had the heat index — a measure of how hot it feels — at more than 100 degrees in many places, and heat advisories were in effect for 18 states. At least 15 deaths were blamed on the recent stretch of steamy weather.

The hottest air of the summer has moved into the mid-South, the National Weather Service said. Forecasters called the heat wave dangerous and urged people to avoid outdoor work, drink lots of liquids and stay cool.

“This heat wears on everybody,” said Sandy Shamburger, who runs Rankin Sod Farm in Brandon, Miss. “We rigged up lights on a sod harvester so we can work at night.”

Schools across the country are having to keep a close eye on conditions as many students begin returning to school and starting sports practices. In Kentucky, six high school football players were recovering from heat exhaustion after they became ill during practice. And at Grady High School in Atlanta, where temperatures have consistently been in the 90s, football practice was moved indoors.

Erin McCowan, whose 15-year-old daughter, Ebone, attends North Cobb High School outside Atlanta, said her daughter’s bus doesn’t have air conditioning. But the school district allows children to bring water on the bus and always keeps the windows down, McCowan said.

“The afternoon — it is really hot,” the Acworth resident said. “In our subdivision, we have a large hill she has to walk up. She asks me to meet her at the bottom of the hill a lot.”

In Louisiana, not even nightfall has brought much relief. Louis Armstrong International Airport outside New Orleans recorded its highest minimum daily temperature ever Tuesday when the mercury didn’t fall below 84 degrees, the weather service said.

And the heat isn’t limited to the Deep South, where people are more accustomed to scorching temperatures. It’s been a particularly steamy summer in the nation’s capital, where temperatures have hit at least 90 degrees on 45 days so far, said weather service meteorologist Heath Sheffield. There were only 22 such days last year.

Chris and Ingrid Hayes had stopped Thursday morning to take a picture in front of the White House with their three children — before the heat really ramped up. They planned to work their way to the National Mall as it got hotter to stroll through air-conditioned museums.

“We’re hoping that helps break up the heat,” Ingrid Hayes said. The family was visiting from Atlanta, where it was just as hot.

However, Sayed Arngbar said the heat doesn’t bother him inside the small food cart he’s operated on the corner of 14th and L streets in northwest Washington for 23 years.

“For me, it’s not a problem. I have a fan, I have all the windows open,” Arngbar said, standing inside his cart Thursday morning. “For some people it’s just too hot, they don’t work. If it’s 100 degrees outside, it’s 120 in here.”

In neighboring Virginia, Richmond has recorded 10 days of 100-degree temperatures — the most ever. In Maryland, two more heat-related deaths were reported from early last week, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene spokesman David Paulson said Thursday. Three deaths were reported in Mississippi.

Even the country’s far northeastern corner hasn’t been spared, with temperatures hitting the 90s in Portland, Maine. Billyjo Auger said he does what most people do to keep cool — drink lots of fluids. If that isn’t enough, he’ll leap from a pier into the cold waters of Portland Harbor.

“There’s nothing better than jumping into the water or eating Popsicles,” he said this week while catching a breeze on the Maine State Pier on a muggy day in the 90s.

Tennessee is holding state primary and local general elections, and officials encouraged voters to turn out by stressing that ballot stations are air conditioned. At least 10 people have died because of the heat in that state.

In Memphis, Mayor A C Wharton has urged people to be “nosy” and check in on their neighbors during the heat wave. The city has set up four community centers as cooling centers for people without air conditioners, and the Shelby County Community Services Agency was to hand out 300 air conditioners. Officials in Baltimore also have opened cooling centers.

Animals have also fallen victim to the extreme heat. A police dog died Wednesday from heat exhaustion in Tennessee’s Blount County after a search for two burglars. A deputy and another dog, also from the Blount County Sheriff’s Office, were treated for heat exhaustion. Blount County Sheriff’s spokeswoman Marian O’Briant said the department had also gotten a call from a Fayette County, Ga., handler whose police dog died from the heat.

Temperatures in Mississippi have surpassed 100 degrees in recent days and may have been to blame for the death of 37-year-old Franklin, a rhinoceros at the Jackson Zoo.

Meanwhile, seven puppies died Wednesday while in the cargo hold of an American Airlines jet in Tulsa, Okla., said airline spokeswoman Mary Frances Fagan. The flight was supposed to leave for Chicago at 6:30 a.m. but had been delayed an hour because of storms there. By that time it was already 86 degrees outside.

Associated Press Writers Jack Elliott Jr. in Jackson, Lauren Sausser and Jessica Gresko in Washington, Michael Kunzelman in New Orleans, Dorie Turner in Atlanta, Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, and David Koenig in Fort Worth, Texas, contributed to this report.

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