Heat buckles roads in Miss., closes preschools, blamed for 1 death

Published 4:17 pm Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Scorching heat has buckled roads in Mississippi, caused at least one death, closed Head Start centers in 13 counties and prompted a legal showdown between high school football coaches and a judge.

The good news?

“It may cool down — to the mid 90s if you consider that cool — by early next week,” Latice Maxie, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Jackson, said Tuesday.

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The temperature has reached at least 100 degrees every day since Friday in central Mississippi, Maxie said.

The hottest temperature recorded so far was a dangerous 106 degrees in Greenville in the Mississippi Delta on Friday and Monday, Maxie said. This week of the year hasn’t been this hot since the 1950s.

ICS Head Start closed 19 preschool facilities in 13 north Mississippi counties until next Monday, said Arvern Moore, the program’s executive director.

“It’s heat. The heat was unbearable,” Moore said. “Some air conditioning units weren’t working and we don’t have air on most of our buses. To have a young child on a bus with no air, you’re asking for problems.”

The closure effects about 3,690 children in Marshall, Lafayette, Panola, DeSoto, Tunica, Quitman, Tallahatchie, Grenada, Clay, Tate, Lowndes, Noxubee and Oktibbeha counties.

The blistering conditions also buckled highways in Jackson and Vardaman, said Lisa Siegel, a spokeswoman for the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

Crews had repaired portions of Mississippi 18 and U.S. 49 in Jackson by Tuesday afternoon and hoped to complete repairs of Mississippi 8 in Vardaman later in the day.

Siegel said roads buckle under the Mississippi sun more often than people think.

“However, I think it is more prevalent now because of the extreme high temperatures,” she said.

At least one death in Mississippi has been blamed on the searing heat. Lonnie Magee, 17, died this past Wednesday while practicing football with the Mount Olive High School team. An autopsy revealed Magee died of a heat stroke, with obesity also contributing to his death.

The death prompted a judge to ban all outdoor activities between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. at schools in six northern Mississippi counties last week. The Supreme Court quickly sided with the Mississippi High School Football Association and others and overturned the ruling on Friday.

The high court pointed out that no one petitioned the judge to issue the ban.

However, other districts have taken their own precautions. Two students practicing with a high school marching band near Vicksburg were whisked to a hospital after collapsing last week. The students soon recovered, but it frightened some parents.

Warren Vicksburg School District Superintendent James Price met with high school coaches and principals Monday and decided that football practice would be limited to 15-minute intervals with 10-minute breaks.

“The total practice time will be just two hours,” Price said. “It’s just hot.”

Band directors in the area were also told to give the students more breaks.

The heat is also causing soybean and cotton crops to mature faster that normal, but widespread losses are not expected because it’s late in the season, said Trey Koger, a scientist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

“It’s better to have it get this hot this time of year because a lot of the cotton is near the end of it’s life cycle,” Koger said. “Soybean is already maturing.”

The heat might cause corn farmers to speed up their operations because extreme heat causes the crop to mature faster, he said.

The heat is also affecting energy use in the state.

Ann Becker, a spokeswoman for Entergy Mississippi, said use has increased 14 percent since Aug. 1. She said use continues to rise with the temperatures, but the company has not reported any problems.

“People are just using more electricity to try to stay cool,” she said.