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Midwest hopes for break from heat wave

Indianapolis heat
A road worker in Indianapolis, Indiana, pauses for relief during the heat wave.  

CHICAGO, Illinois (CNN) -- The sweltering Midwest hoped for a break from temperatures approaching triple digits Wednesday -- a heat wave in which two athletes have died, including an NFL player.

In Michigantown, Indiana, a 17-year-old high school football player collapsed during practice Tuesday and died early Wednesday. Although the cause of Travis Stowers' death was not immediately known, a spokeswoman at St. Vincent-Frankfort Hospital said the teen arrived with "elevated temperatures."

In the Minneapolis suburb of Mankato, Minnesota, authorities blamed heatstroke for the death of Minnesota Vikings offensive lineman Korey Stringer. The team had practiced Tuesday in the 90-plus-degree weather dressed in pads, helmets and jerseys, and Stringer, a 27-year-old All-Pro, exhibited heatstroke symptoms during the session.

"It's like he was here today, gone tomorrow," said teammate Randy Moss, weeping openly during a Vikings news conference.

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Heat stroke fact box  

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warns that sunstroke, heat cramps or heat exhaustion are likely when the heat index tops 105 degrees. Heatstroke is possible with either prolonged exposure or physical activity, or both.

Forecasters projected cooler temperatures and rain for much of the upper Midwest on Thursday, but no good news awaited the southern and central Plains states.

Dennis McCarthy, director of the National Weather Service's central region, warned in a written statement Wednesday athletes starting fall practice "could face serious medical complications if they don't watch for signs of heat exhaustion and heatstroke." The elderly and those with medical conditions should avoid prolonged exposure to heat, he said.

In Chicago, where a 1995 heat wave was blamed for 500 deaths, temperatures were expected to match Tuesday's mark of 95 degrees. That, combined with relative humidity, brought the heat index -- a reading of how hot it feels under various temperature and relative humidity combinations -- up to about 110.

Cooling centers were set up in Chicago to help bring relief to those without air conditioning, and workers outdoors took extra precautions.

Matthew Brown, leader of a construction crew working on an overhaul of the LaSalle Street bridge downtown, said his crew has curtailed overtime for the last two days because of the heat. But, he added, "We have to get the job done. We've got a certain time we've got to get LaSalle Street open, and we've got to hit that date."

Chuck Spittler, a foreman on the city's Wacker Drive reconstruction project, said he and his workers take precautions when the weather gets hot, starting and quitting work earlier.

"I won't push them quite as hard. I mean, we've got a lot to do, but I can't beat them up too bad," Spittler said.

Chicago swimmers
Chicago swimmers cool off from the heat.  

Commonwealth Edison -- the electric company serving northern Illinois -- set an all-time record Tuesday for power use, at 21,260 megawatts of demand, and predicted it would break the record Wednesday.

The company is taking steps to avoid power outages by scheduling extra work crews, postponing work that would put equipment out of service, and opening emergency command centers. It was also advising customers to save energy where possible.

In Oklahoma, authorities already blame nine deaths on the heat this summer: Meteorologists in Oklahoma City predicted a high of 101 on Wednesday, with no prospect of rain for five to seven days.

In Tulsa, where temperatures were expected to hit 104 on Wednesday, Tulsa County Social Services opened a cooling center for anyone who needed to escape from the heat. Director Linda Johnston said it has been open for about a week, offering chairs, reading materials, videos, food and cool drinks.

"We've also encouraged people to go to the local libraries or go to the mall or other public air-conditioned places in our community," Johnston said. "We are asking people to communicate directly with the elderly and the frail to go knock on their door and visit with them, and make sure they are safe."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says extreme heat is of particular concern this year because of energy problems in many areas of the country that could limit use of air conditioning. It said air conditioning is the No. 1 protective factor against heat-related illness and death.

In a normal year, about 175 Americans succumb to heat, according to NOAA figures, but the numbers can increase dramatically in unusually hot summers. In the heat wave of 1980, more than 1,250 people died. In the 40-year period from 1936 through 1975, nearly 20,000 people were killed in the United States by the effects of heat and solar radiation.

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