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Dangerous Heat Wave Bakes Midwest


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly. Good morning.

It will be intensely hot again in many parts of the country today. From farms in the Midwest to the dry plains of Texas to cities here on the East Coast, temperatures will be flirting with or reaching triple digits. Yesterday, heat advisories were issued in at least 27 states. More than 20 people have already died from heat-related illnesses. And the hot sticky heat is expected to hover for several more days.

NPR's David Schaper reports now from Chicago on how people there are coping.

DAVID SCHAPER: Eric Rebolledo is on top of the sun-baked roof of an old greystone three-flat on Chicago's North Side, sweltering as he kneels alongside a sputtering air-conditioning unit that's not cranking out the cool air that it should.

The repairman for AllTemp Heating and Air Conditioning in Chicago has been doing this a lot lately.

Mr. ERIC REBOLLEDO (Repairman): Long hours, hot days, man. Up in the roof, it's usually pretty hot, man, but you try to hydrate, you know, enough water, drink, make sure you drink enough water. Got a cooler in the truck, you know.

SCHAPER: With the high temperature in Chicago Wednesday of 99 and high humidity making it feel like 110, Rebolledo said the heat was crippling many air conditioners.

Mr. REBOLLEDO: We're getting a lot of breakdowns just due to the hot weather, man, it's running - instead of running only six hours a day, they're running, you know, 12, 13, 15 hours a day. So it's, these air conditioners are definitely taking a beating these last couple days.

SCHAPER: Rebolledo was working 12-hour shifts and his company has repair crews available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He understands his job had an extra level of urgency to it right now.

Mr. REBOLLEDO: You got to provide the service, you know, when it's needed. I mean unfortunately this is - I got a lot of elderly customers and this weather can definitely be deadly.

SCHAPER: And the heat has turned deadly in some parts of the Midwest. In Kansas City, where the heat wave is now entering its tenth day, Mayor Sly James says heat appears to be a factor in the deaths of at least 13 people.

Mayor SLY JAMES (Kansas City, Missouri): Generally, the folks who have died have been those who have been less able to protect themselves against the heat for lack of air conditioning, fans, cool places, those types of things. And those folks who are often elderly, or concentrated in high rises, or in areas where there are pockets of poverty.

SCHAPER: In Kansas City, Chicago and other cities, officials are making door-to-door well-being checks on older residents and those with health problems. People are being asked to check on their neighbors, and cooling centers are open for people without air conditioning.

Still, hospitals around the Midwest are seeing scores of patients with heat-related illnesses, including heat stroke and dehydration. The heat is putting a huge demand on the nation's power grid, leading to scattered power outages, and hot pavement is buckling on some highways.

The hot weather is also baking some crops.

Mr. CURTIS MILLSAP (Organic Farmer): Yeah so what happens when plants get heat stressed and water stressed is they get curly leaves like this.

SCHAPER: Curtis Millsap owns and operates an organic farm outside of Springfield, Missouri, and he says this summer's heat is much earlier and much more intense than usual, leading to wilting lettuce and fewer vegetables.

Mr. MILLSAP: Here you can see some of the blossoms that are kind of there's(ph) - they should stay on there and become cherry tomato - or yeah, tomatoes, and they're just falling off. It's too hot for them.

SCHAPER: For many farmers, the heat adds insult to injury. Flooding and a cold wet spring led many to plant late. Now corn, wheat and other crop yields might be even be smaller.

Dairy production is down too, as hot cows don't give as much milk.

And it's so hot in some areas, livestock are dropping dead. At least 1,500 cattle in South Dakota died because of the heat, as did some dairy cows in Wisconsin and Minnesota, and thousands of chickens and turkeys on poultry farms from Kansas to North Carolina.

Temperatures are expected to cool a bit today in some parts of the Midwest, if you can call the upper 80s cool, but they will only rise in the East as the heat dome covering much of the country slowly moves that way.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Schaper is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, based in Chicago, primarily covering transportation and infrastructure, as well as breaking news in Chicago and the Midwest.