NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Authorities in Memphis and Alabama reported 10 more heat-related deaths Saturday, bringing the toll in the Southeast and Midwest to at least 49 since oppressive triple-digit temperatures settled over the region last week.
In Memphis alone, heat has been blamed as a factor in 12 deaths, mostly elderly victims, in nine days. A 62-year-old man was found dead in his home Friday, the Shelby County Medical Examiner's office announced. The body of a 77-year-old woman was found Thursday evening in her residence, where the temperature inside was 101.
"She had a fan on and had a small AC unit, but it was switched to 'fan' and was only blowing out hot air," said Shelby County Medical Examiner Karen Chancellor said Friday.
The woman had no known medical conditions, but an autopsy showed signs of heart disease, Chancellor said.
Memphis has had nine straight days of triple-digit temperatures and forecasters say the high could reach 102 on Sunday. The local health department said the city's heat index — a measure that factors in humidity to describe how hot it feels — has broken 100 every day since June 27.
The city's senior and community centers extended hours and offered shuttle service to allow people without air conditioning to escape the sweltering heat. The city-owned Memphis Light, Gas and Water utility will start donating and installing 200 window AC units next week.
"It would be best to get to an air-conditioned environment for a least a few hours a day," Chancellor said.
In north Alabama, one reactor at the Browns Ferry Nuclear Plant remained idle Friday and two others were operating at reduced power because of overheated water in the Tennessee River, which is used to cool the plant.
"This all comes down to the drought and the hot weather," said plant spokesman Jason Huffine.
Health officials in Alabama announced Friday that eight people there had died of heat-related causes this week and last week. The state has had 11 straight days with triple-digit temperatures, breaking records that dated back to 1881 in some areas.
Details concerning all the deaths were not immediately available, but officials said they included a 59-year-old woman found dead Wednesday in her Decatur home, and a 64-year-old man found dead Monday in his home in the Lacey's Spring community.
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. 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.
For the weekend, the National Weather Service forecast highs in the lower 90s in much of the Midwest and in the middle and upper 90s across the Southeast.
Last summer, a heat wave killed at least 50 people in the Midwest and East. California officially reported a death toll of 143, but authorities last month acknowledged the number may have been far higher. A 1995 heat wave in Chicago was blamed for 700 deaths.