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Schools urged to be cautious in heat; Riley seeks shelters

From staff, AP reports

MONTGOMERY — An unprecedented heat wave continued to scorch Alabama on Tuesday as the temperature reached 106 degrees in Montgomery, and Gov. Bob Riley asked churches, senior citizen centers and community colleges to remain open to give people a place to cool down.

State Health Officer Don Williamson said Alabama hospitals are reporting a “significant increase” in the number of patients showing signs of heat-related illnesses. Williamson said so far only one possible heat-related death has been reported — a 35-year-old man found dead inside his car in Mobile on Sunday.

The heat has forced schools in one county to cancel classes, and state Schools Superintendent Joe Morton has warned school systems to monitor outdoor activities like football and band practices.

Riley said the scorching heat could continue for as long as another week and urged Alabama residents to look after each other.

“We need to do everything we can to check on the elderly in our communities and help them,” Riley said.

He said more than 300 Alabama churches have agreed to remain open during the day to give people a place to cool down. He said he is also asking community colleges to open space for people to cool down during the day.

Morgan County Emergency Management Agency Director Eddie Hicks advised people to look for the closest available shelters, such as senior centers.

A county meeting of Volunteer Organizations Active in Disaster will be at 2 p.m. Wednesday in the EMA office in the basement of the courthouse, Hicks said. Anyone who can help with the heat crisis is invited.

Williamson said the consecutive days of heat are similar to a heat wave in 1980 that killed 125 people in Alabama, although the daily temperatures were not as high some days. He said the difference in the tolls then and now may be that more people have air conditioning now than in 1980.

Coosa County schools canceled classes Tuesday because of problems with air conditioning. Morton sent a memo to all local school chiefs asking them to use precaution in physical education classes and sports practices to avoid heat injuries.

“Specifically, I request that you review safety guidelines with physical education teachers and coaches regarding strenuous exercise in the excessive heat conditions we are experiencing,” Morton said in the memo.

Morton said he sent the memo because of his background as a former local superintendent and “knowing how hot band members and athletes get in a normal August.”

The National Weather Service reported the temperature was 106 in Montgomery, which broke the record for the date of 103 set in 1954. It was 103 in Tuscaloosa, 103 in Troy and 104 in Birmingham. It was a record ninth day in a row the temperature was over 100 in Montgomery and the eighth straight day in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham.

In the economically depressed Black Belt region, efforts were being made to get fans, water and in some cases air conditioners to poor residents.

Sister Ann Chaput, who runs an Edmundite Catholic mission in Mosses in rural Lowndes County, said she is working to get fans, bottled water and even air conditioners to poor residents living in hot wooden houses or small trailers.

She said some of the homes are so hot that she has to sit outside when she goes to visit.

“I don’t know how people could possibly sleep at night in this heat,” Chaput said Tuesday. “It’s hard for people to get out of this heat. We are trying to get water to people to get them hydrated.”

At a Catholic mission outside Pine Apple in Wilcox County, officials have opened an adult day care center to give people an air-conditioned place to get out of the heat.

The center’s director, Mildred Boulware, said the mission is also delivering water, juice and ice to people’s homes, which are stifling.

“They talk about what it’s like when they open the door and the heat hits them in the face,” Boulware said.

She said some people have air conditioners, but are afraid to turn them on because they can’t afford to pay their power bills.

On Alabama’s Gulf Coast, where temperatures have mostly stayed in the upper 90s, the heat is causing problems for victims of a different weather event — 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.

Jim Fuller, who works with Katrina victims along the coast, said many victims are still living in damaged homes that have not been repaired, or in trailers. He said many of the homes have suffered problems from mold since Katrina, which is made worse by the extreme heat.

“Some people are still living in houses with tarps over the roof,” Fuller said. “How would you like to be in a moldy house with no air conditioning.”

Copyright 2005 THE DECATUR DAILY. All rights reserved.
AP contributed to this report.

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