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Inferno-like heat bakes central US

BY HENRY BRIER | TOPEKA, KA | July 20, 2001


"I think it a blessing because they can help people who need it."

—Christopher Singer, Topeka, KS


Forty-five year old Topeka resident Christopher Singer

said he couldn't afford the fan his 75-year-old mother desperately

needed to help offset the inferno-like heat wave that is currently

plaguing Oklahoma and Kansas.

Shortly after asking officials at the Salvation Army if he qualified

for free fans the organization is distributing, Singer walked out

with a 20-inch fan.

"I think it a blessing because they can help people who need it," he

said, noting his mother will make use of the fan in her room on the

second floor. "It's awful hot upstairs."

Health officials in the central plains of the United States have a

simple message for people enduring the heat where temperatures dwarf

100 degrees: 'Don't overdo it.'

For the past several days, the sun has been blistering the nation's

heartland as it does every summer, starting in the beginning of July

and lasting through early September.

"August is typically our hottest month," said Andrea Anglin,

spokeswoman for the Midway-Kansas Chapter of the American Red Cross

in Wichita. "One hundred five degrees is not common. It's on the

higher side of what we're used to."

Singer said he is trying to stay inside where the heat is not so bad.

He said in past summers he worked and was able to buy a fan, but this

year he is not working because he is disabled.

The Topeka resident is one of more than 300 residents who have

received a fan from the Topeka Salvation Army this summer. The Army's

"Heat Relief Project," started in June and expects to distribute as

many as 500 fans through the next month according to Capt. Paul

Duskin.

The hottest time of the day is between 2 and 3 in the afternoon,

according to Michelann Ooten, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma

Department of Civil Emergency Management. She said five people have

died in Oklahoma since July 6 from excessive heat.

The populations most vulnerable to heat are the elderly and young

children, both of whom need Good Samaritans to monitor their

well-being.

The Oklahoma Department of Human Services runs an office in each of

the state's 77 counties that provides services for its elderly

population, according to Bill Leitner, a department spokesman.

The department encourages citizens to return home to a place where

they can alleviate the heat, and for some it provides fans and window

air conditioners, Leitner said.

But some elderly citizens endanger themselves because they opt not to

run the air conditioner because of the high cost of electricity, he

said.

The Wichita chapter of the American Red Cross is operating a fan

program where local businesses donate the ventilatory devices, Anglin

said.

"We then take those and distribute them to our clients," she said,

adding recipients must not already own a fan or a air conditioner,

they must be over 60 years old, and they must be unable to afford the

fan.

A Tulsa, OK, organization is loaning air conditioners to frail and

serioiusly ill city residents who lack either personal or family

resources.

Jim Lyall, associate director of the community service council of

greater Tulsa, said the Tulsa Weather Coalition has been operating

the program since 1980, when 13 people died one summer because of

severe heat.

He said 70 percent of the recipients are elderly, and the remaining

are people with diseases, such as severe emphyzema, cancer, AIDs, or

other bed or wheelchair confining disabilities.

He said the service is also available to newborns who qualify.

The well being of young children is of concern because of their

tendency to persevere without resting. Ooten said such a warning

especially applies to very young children. "Make sure they are not

over doing it," she said.

Officials recommend spending time at malls or viewing movies at theatres.

People often forget about the well being of pets, for whom

precautionary measures are similar to young children.

"Pets are vulnerable," Anglin said. "People should remember never to

lock a child or pet in a car because the heat will rise so

tremendously in a short period of time that it will be dangerous for

any living thing in a car."

In addition to visiting malls and theatres, officials also recommend

wearing lightweight and light-colored clothing.

Residents should also be good citizens and check on neighbors,

especially those who are living alone, officials said.

"Check on their conditions," Ooten said. "Make sure they're okay."

People should also plan activities for early in the day so they don't

have to be exposed to the heat, Anglin said.

She said people should avoid alcohol because it increases

dehydration, but she encouraged people to drink another liquid.

"Drink plenty of water," she added. "Refresh with tall glass of water."


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