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Archive for Friday, July 21, 2000

Heat wave keeps South in its grip

July 21, 2000

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— With only two little fans to cool her cinderblock home, Willie Shepard sweltered Thursday along with the rest of the sun-baked South.

The 78-year-old woman finally gave up on getting cool inside the six-room house and moved instead to the circle of shade under a small tree, hoping to catch a noontime breeze.

Wiping away sweat, Shepard recalled her fitful sleep the night before. "I got so hot I went and put my head in the refrigerator," she said.

In a record-breaking heat wave already blamed for at least 16 deaths across the region, Shepard's hometown of Tuscaloosa is an oven turned on high. On Thursday, the temperature broke the 100-degree mark for the 16th straight day.

The city, which has had only 1.9 inches of rain since May, needs a foot of rain to escape the extreme drought that is killing crops across much of the South, forecasters said.

The two weeks of blistering heat have been blamed for at least 12 deaths in Texas and four in Louisiana. Forecasters said most areas should cool down heading into the weekend, but only by a few degrees.

About 8,500 homes and businesses in Tulsa, Okla., lost power Thursday during a thunderstorm that signaled an approaching front. In Texas, Dallas County remained under an emergency health alert prompted by temperatures above 100 degrees.

In Georgia, temperatures have been running five to 10 degrees above normal. Columbus has been that state's hot spot, with 100-plus temperatures for six days.

In Tuscaloosa, the county welfare office has seen an increase in cases of neglect of the elderly, possibly because the heat has made people too stressed or tired to take care of others. More than 20 instances of neglect have been reported in the last month, about twice as many as usual.

"I think it's the heat," said Ken Sanders, adult services supervisor for the Tuscaloosa County Department of Human Resources. "After a while, people begin to get heat fatigue."

While the South baked, it was still sweater weather in Michigan. Temperatures in the southeastern part of the state have averaged 14 degrees below normal this month -- and all-time July lows were set Wednesday in two cities in the Upper Peninsula: 34 in Manistique and 36 in Escanaba.

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