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Heatwave Claims Lives in Midwest - 2001-08-01

The Midwestern United States is sweltering this week in high temperatures and humidity. The heatwave has claimed several lives, including that of a star professional football player. Some parts of the region have set temperature records, while others are worrying if they will have enough electricity to power home and business air conditioners.

In downtown Chicago Wednesday afternoon, the temperature was about 34 degrees, but the unusually high humidity made it feel more like 38. The local electric power company, Commonwealth Edison, is asking people to conserve electricity as the demand for air conditioning increases.

Company chief David Helwig hopes to avoid the blackouts that hit Chicago during the last big heatwave two years ago. He said, "Things are performing quite well so far. We are very pleased. We have no substations that are overloaded and no circuits that are overloaded, just as we predicted."

The city's Health Department director, John Wilhelm, said 15 people in the Chicago area have died of heat-related causes in recent weeks, and urged everyone to be careful outside. Mr. Wilhelm said, "This is a caution for everybody, even young people, to avoid exercise in the heat of the day, to stay hydrated."

The heat claimed the life of a professional football player Wednesday. Minnesota Vikings all-star tackle Korey Stringer died of complications from heat stroke. He had been taken to the hospital Tuesday after becoming ill at the team's training camp in Mankato, Minnesota. Teammate Cris Carter says everyone in the organization is in shock. "It is hot everywhere," he said, "that is why they call it the dog days of summer. You have to realize, too, that everything in life does not have an explanation. There are certain things we can not explain to you."

The heat is even worse in the south-central United States. On Wednesday, the Texas capital Austin reached 38 degrees for the 20th straight day, breaking a 76-year-old record. In the neighboring state of Oklahoma, eight people have died from the heat in recent weeks.

Five years ago, a heat wave killed about 700 people in the Chicago area. Since then, the city has established a program using city workers and local residents to check on elderly neighbors to make sure they are well.

Community Service director Ted O'Keefe says those well-being checks are paying off. He said, "The plan that we have in place right now seems to be reaching out to people and having people reach out to one another. Certainly, that communication, caring for neighbors, resources available like cooling centers, I think it is all helping."

Rainshowers in the central United States are expected to provide brief relief on Thursday, but temperatures and humidity levels will rise again by Saturday.