Missouri baking again

The summer of 2011 was keeping a sizzling grip Tuesday on Missouri.

Heat that is besetting the state has contributed to the buckling of roads, the drying out of fields and several deaths. The National Weather Service in St. Louis said this past July was the fourth-warmest July and the hottest in more than 70 years in St. Louis. It was the sixth-hottest July recorded in Columbia in central Missouri.

A new month has not helped to abate the heat so far in August. Temperatures in Missouri’s two largest cities were to climb above 100 degrees with heat indexes going even higher. In Kansas City, city leaders urged residents to be cautious about outdoor activity, and streets in the urban core were largely void of foot traffic as people stayed inside. St. Louis Mayor Francis Slay urged neighbors and relatives to check whether the air conditioners of elderly neighbors were working properly.

Officials in the St. Louis area blamed the heat for two more deaths. The St. Louis Health Department said the family of Earline Walker, 90, found her at her home July 24. Air conditioners were blowing hot air. The St. Louis County medical examiner’s office said that Shirley DeClue, 73, was found Thursday in her home in Ferguson. The house had an air conditioner, but it was not on. Officials said DeClue could have been dead for as long as two weeks.

Pamela Rice Walker, the health director for St. Louis city, said people should check on the well-being of the elderly.

“It is still unbearably hot for some individuals,” Walker said. “If you know someone who does not have an air conditioner or whose air conditioner is broken, please make sure they go to a cooling center during the day.”

The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said 11 heat-related deaths have been confirmed from May 1 through Monday. Nine of those deaths were in the St. Louis area, one was in Kansas City and one was elsewhere in Missouri. The state health agency says another 24 deaths were suspected to be heat-related. Health officials said there have been 1,362 heat-related visits to emergency rooms.

State officials said there were 17 heat-related deaths last year, 11 deaths in 2009 and 10 deaths in 2008. There were 34 heat-related deaths in 2007 and 25 each in 2006 and 2005.

Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Jacqueline Lapine said Tuesday people should try to stay indoors in a building with air conditioning. She said people can help protect themselves by drinking plenty of fluids, using sunscreen and wearing light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing.

“The most important thing is that heat-related illness can be prevented,” Lapine said. “We want people to check on seniors living in their areas and keep an eye on children.”

The heat also has affected roads and agriculture.

Farmers in southwestern Missouri were battling a lack of rain and dwindling hay stocks as the heat dried fields. Eldon Cole, a beef cattle specialist for University of Missouri Extension, said water supplies in creeks and wells were falling and grass in fields was drying up.

The state Department of Transportation said the heat has taken a toll on Missouri’s highways, causing more pavement buckling than in past years. Yet officials said they have not had to close any highways because of buckling and said flooding in Missouri so far has caused more problems with highway pavement than the heat. The Transportation Department has put up some warning signs to identify bumps in the road until the problem can be fixed.

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