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SATURDAY, AUGUST 18, 2007
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Heat wave proves deadly
8 Alabama deaths blamed on heat, including 2 in Morgan County

By Seth Burkett
sburkett@decaturdaily.com 340-2355

State health officials Friday blamed eight Alabama deaths, including two in Morgan County, on the oppressive heat that has sent the temperature soaring over 100 degrees daily for almost two weeks.

Morgan County Coroner Russ Beard said a friend found Jerry B. Hays, 64, of Lacey's Spring dead inside his mobile home Monday. Beverly Englund of Decatur, 59, was discovered dead inside her home by her son Wednesday afternoon. Neither home was air-conditioned, Beard said.

State hospitals treated 148 people for heat-related illness since the heat wave began in early August, said Christopher Sellers, a senior epidemiologist with the Alabama Department of Public Health.

Sellers, who gave the numbers late Friday, said the toll could grow retrospectively as county health departments continue reporting to the state.

Sellers said Autauga, Elmore, Chilton, Coffee, Henry and Montgomery counties had also reported deaths since Aug. 10.

"At least one of those happened today," he said.

The hottest part of the state Friday was in the Tennessee Valley, where the temperature reached 101 in Decatur, Huntsville and Muscle Shoals.

Decatur's 10-day streak of triple-digit temperatures tied for the Huntsville record set in 1952.

Previously state health officials said there had been no confirmed deaths from the hot weather, which has been compared to a 1980 heat wave that claimed 125 lives in Alabama.

Both Hays and Englund suffered from other health problems, but "since they didn't have air in there, they're considering the deaths heat-related," Beard said.

Hays lived alone in a mobile home on East Chelsea Circle. He had no known family, but a friend came by every Monday to take him to the grocery store, Beard said.

Hays had been dead for five or six days and was already badly decomposed when his friend found him Monday afternoon, Beard said.

"He didn't have any air-conditioning," Beard said. "It was a kind of trailer he lived in. If it was 104 or 105 outside. There's no telling how hot it was inside that trailer. It was hot, I'll tell you that much."

'A tragic death'

"We're still unable to find any family," Beard said. "It's a tragic death — not to have anyone to check on you except that one friend."

Englund had been dead two or three days inside her home in the 1000 block of Fifth Avenue Southeast when her son, who lives in Hillsboro, came to check on her, Beard said.

"She had an air conditioner in her house, but she wasn't running it," Beard said. "Her son told me his mother didn't run the AC, pretty much no matter how hot it got. ...

"What the son told me was that if she ran the air conditioner, she got real congested, so she wouldn't run the air conditioner."

Englund did have some fans running in the house, Beard said.

Check on neighbors

Beard encouraged people to keep an eye on their neighbors, especially those who might be extra-susceptible to the heat.

"The main thing we want to get across to people with the heat and all is that you want to check on the elderly, especially if you know somebody that doesn't have any family around here," he said.

Lt. Doug Davies, a Decatur Fire and Rescue spokesman, advised taking tips on heat safety from firefighters.

Despite the exertion of fighting grass fires on the hottest days of the year, Decatur firefighters haven't had any problems with heat-related illness during the heat wave, Davies said.

"The main thing is just stay hydrated. We're drinking water all the time," Davies said.

"Dehydration is a subtle process. You can be dehydrated and not even know it. Most citizens are already dehydrated. Then when these extreme temperatures kick in, you get heat exhaustion or heat stroke."

Davies said signs of heat-related illness include rapid heartbeat, rapid shallow breathing, and blood pressure either significantly elevated or lowered. Confusion, fainting, and an ashen appearance can also be signs.

"People don't realize this, but if they stop sweating, they're right on the threshold of heat stroke," Davies said. "Get them out of the sun and call 911."

A spokeswoman for Parkway Medical Center in Decatur said the hospital had treated at least one person for heat-related illness since Tuesday. Counts from other area hospitals were not immediately available.

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson expressed concern for people living in homes without air conditioning.

"We ask the public to contact elderly friends and family to make arrangements to assist them," Williamson said.

The news of the deaths came as overcast skies and spot showers held the temperature below 100 in some parts of the state for a while — but not long enough as a sunny afternoon sent the temperature to 101 in Montgomery, the capital's 12th day in a row in triple digits.

Birmingham's streak of 100-plus temperatures appeared to be ending at a record 10 days as morning showers held the high down to 96 degrees Friday afternoon. It was 99 in Tuscaloosa, where another streak was close to ending.

The streak continued in the Tennessee Valley, but a line of heavy afternoon thunderstorms cooled off the area, lowering the temperature to 91 in Muscle Shoals by late afternoon.

107 in some areas

The temperature has reached as high as 107 in some areas.

In Elmore County, an anonymous donor gave county schools 20,160 bottles of water Friday for children to drink on school buses that have no air conditioning.

Elmore County schools spokeswoman Judy Caton said the system began receiving donations of bottled water after school officials announced earlier this week they would allow students to drink water on buses because of the heat.

"The kids were so thrilled. They were quiet on the buses and just sat in their seats and drank their water," Caton said.

While the heat has forced many in Alabama to curtail outdoor activities, it apparently hasn't kept golfers off the Alabama Golf Trail, a string of Robert Trent Jones golf courses owned by Retirement Systems of Alabama.

"Golfers are a fairly hardy bunch. If the sun is shining and it's not raining, you're going to get golfers," said John Cannon, president of SunBelt Golf, which manages the courses.

Cannon said there has not been much of a drop since the heat wave began in early August. He said course officials are using industrial fans on greens and offering iced-down towels to golfers.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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