nat 95

Deadly Heat Wave Marches On
July 19, 2000 12:17 pm EST

As Many As 17 Deaths Blamed On Triple-Digit Heat Wave

NEW YORK, JULY 18, 2000 (CBS News) - The South is sweltering in a heat wave, with triple-digit danger being blamed for as many as 17 deaths in Texas and Louisiana.

The Fort Worth-Dallas area has now had six straight days of 100-plus readings, with no relief expected before next week.

Even worse, in some places, water supplies are drying up.

In Dallas, temperatures soaring as high as 109 degrees prompted health officials to issue a state of emergency. Across Texas, there have been 12 deaths due to the heat: 3 in the Dallas area, 7 in Houston, and two more in the central part of the state.

Several of the Texas victims were elderly shut-ins who had no air conditioners or could not afford the electricity to keep the units running, officials said.

That is the same scenario for four of the five deaths being investigated as heat-related in Louisiana.

Two elderly women were found dead Tuesday in a Ruston, Louisiana, home where the air conditioning apparently wasn't working and Sunday, two elderly men were found dead in the low income hotel where they lived. Authorities say the old building, the Creswell Hotel, was cooled only by fans and the bodies of the two men, longtime residents of the building, were both at about 100 degrees when they were found. A fifth Louisiana death is also being looked at as possibly heat-related.

Louisiana's heat is affecting even those who are a bit above average when it comes to health and fitness. New Orleans Saints tight end Austin Wheatley found the heat too much to handle at practice Monday and wound up being hauled off the field and out of practice Tuesday, because of dehydration.

"I think I was conscious," says Wheatley, a 6-foot, 3-inch, 254-pound rookie from Iowa. "I learned a lesson about drinking plenty of water."

North Louisiana racked up Tuesday's biggest sizzlers in that state, with 101 degrees at Monroe, 99 at Alexandria and 98 in Shreveport. Things weren't much better in downtown New Orleans, which roasted at 97, in Baton Rouge and Lake Charles, which both checked in at 94, or in Lafayette, which sweltered at a solid 95 degrees.

In Alabama, Tuesday was day 14 of temperatures at 100 degrees or more, with the hottest spots being Tuscaloosa and Evergreen at 101, and an even 100 at Montgomery and Dothan.

As the 100 degree plus temperatures continue in Texas, residents there can't help but think fondly of July's normal temperatures, generally about 93 degrees in Houston and 97 degrees in Houston.

The Dallas County Health Department's Betty Culbreath-Lister says: "When the temperature is 80 degrees at night, there is no break, so they just stay hot 24 hours. Once that happens for 96 consecutive hours, then we know we are trouble "

>From Arizona to Alabama, a stalled-out high-pressure system has left many states stuck in triple digit temperatures.

No relief was expected anytime soon from the heat wave baking Texas, Arizona, New Mexico, Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Kansas.

The hot weather has compounded a region-wide drought.

In drought-withered Alabama, all 67 counties have been declared federal disaster areas because of the drought and forestry officials have taken the rare step of banning outdoor burning.

Residents of Throckmorton, Texas, will run out of drinking water in 60 days, unless volunteers can finish a 21-mile long pipeline to the next town.

Volunteer Golden Elkins says, "They're not here for the money, they're here for the pleasure and enjoyment of getting something out of helping your fellow man."

Beside the heat and drought, another menace is destroying Texas crops at a record pace.

CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara reports drought-hatched grasshoppers are ravaging tens of thousands of acres for the third year in a row.

In central Texas, the grasshoppers are as thick as they've been in more than 30 years. And for some farmers the last line of defense against this invasion is from the air. Crop-dusters are flying from dawn till dark, spraying pesticides onto crop and pastureland.

Farm profit margins are on the line. And losses are adding up big. Entomologist Clifford Hoelscher says, "We've estimated somewhere between $154-to-$273 million… this year."

Experts say the current Texas grasshopper cycle could last another three summers.

Farmer Eddie Baggs says, "They'll eat the bark off of trees if there's nothing else out there."

Dennis Smith can't stock enough pesticides for the plague. He says, "They're eating screens off of windows, clothes pins off of clothes lines, killing peach trees."

Myra Smith has a bumper crop of peaches and grasshoppers, and says her fruit has gone to the pits. "(The grasshoppers) left me two peaches and they've eaten six," she says. "We've never had grasshoppers this bad before. This is the worst."

Other regions of the United States have been experiencing unusual weather as well. The eastern and western seaboards are enjoying unseasonably cooler temperatures.

The temperature in the Chicago - notorious for its sweltering summers - has yet to crack the 90-degree mark. In Truckee, Calif., the mercury almost dipped below freezing last week. Long-term drought continues over portions of the central states, where little change is expected as high temperatures offset the benefits of passing thunderstorms.

"What we're seeing is the lingering effects of the La Niña, which is a condition when the tropical Pacific is colder than normal," Ants Leetmaa, director of the Climate Prediction Center in Camp Springs, Md., tells CBS News. "This is introducing areas of heat and coolness throughout the United States and Europe and Asia."

The last time the Windy City went this long without reaching 90 degrees was back in the Eisenhower administration, when the city finally topped 93 on July 21. Chicago's on track to break that record this year.

SOURCES: © 2000 CBS Worldwide Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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