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Seven dead from heat-related illness in Washington DC region amid brutal summer weather

A scorching heat wave has battered the Washington region, killing seven people and prompting elected officials to cancel public events, close sports fields and encourage residents to stay indoors.

Heat indexes have topped 100 degrees for several days in a row this week, prompting the National Weather Service to issue heat warnings for the region for three consecutive days. The heat is expected to ease off Thursday and Friday before picking up again over the weekend and next week, setting up another uncomfortable stretch for the region’s second-hottest start to summer on record, according to the Capital Weather Gang.

There are concerns in the Washington region that weather this week will likely lead to more heat-related illnesses and possible deaths, despite continued public warnings and proclamations.

“We encourage residents to stay hydrated and limit outdoor activities as much as possible,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Friday. “It is also important to check on your family members, friends and neighbors, especially seniors, families with young children, individuals with special needs or individuals living alone during periods of extreme heat.”

Of the six reported deaths in Maryland from heat-related illnesses, four occurred in Prince George’s, according to the Maryland Health Department’s weekly Heat-Related Illness Surveillance Report. Two of the deceased were between the ages of 45 and 64, while two were over 65. The two additional deaths came from Anne Arundel and Baltimore City. According to Maryland data, nine people died from the heat in 2023.

In neighboring Montgomery County, officials said county-run libraries, pools, recreation centers and retirement homes would remain open during normal business hours so people could cool off during the day.

The county Department of Transportation will also provide free bottled water on some buses for customers using the Ride On, ExtRa, Flex and Flash bus systems. Homeless shelters will also remain open 24 hours a day.

One resident struggling through these uncomfortable days is Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D). He has been without air conditioning in his home for nearly four weeks as he waits for a replacement part.

“There’s nothing like a house that’s about 90 degrees when you go to bed,” he said with a grin from his office at the start of a news conference Wednesday. “It’s wonderful.”

He urged people who needed to escape the heat to visit a local library, swimming pool, retirement home or recreation center to cool off.

“We ask people to be careful,” he said.

In Virginia, the state Department of Health confirmed one recent heat-related death but did not provide further details. The agency reported that 1,681 people visited hospital emergency rooms or urgent care clinics for heat-related illnesses from May 1 through Tuesday, an increase of more than 115 percent compared to last year.

According to the agency’s data, the number of heat-related emergencies peaked on July 6, when 111 people visited emergency rooms in Virginia. Tuesday, however, came in a close second with 105 incidents.

Christian Martinez, a spokesman for Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R), said the governor is monitoring the situation across the state.

“Governor Youngkin continues to work with multiple secretariats and state agencies and is actively working with our federal and local partners to assess the circumstances and provide guidance to Virginians so that local governments and families can implement appropriate measures to ensure the safety of Virginians across the Commonwealth,” Martinez said in a written statement.

Virginia is also bracing for a potential drought. Last month, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality issued a drought warning for the Northern Virginia region — including Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Arlington and Fairfax counties — and seven counties in the Shenandoah region.

The warning means that a significant heat-related drought is “imminent,” the advisory said.

The Virginia Drought Monitoring Task Force, made up of state and federal officials from environmental quality, weather, agriculture and health, found that water levels in every region of the state were at or below 25 percent of normal, while groundwater levels were falling in the northern, central and eastern regions. Water levels at monitoring wells were extremely low — below 5 percent of normal — in Northern Virginia, Shenandoah, Roanoke, the New River in the southwest and the York-James River area of ​​the peninsula.

Reservoir levels were normal, but the department said it was working with officials across the state on drought response plans. The announcement encouraged residents to “protect water resources by minimizing water use, monitoring drought conditions, and detecting and repairing leaks.”

Weedon Cloe, a drought expert with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, said the heat and drought-like conditions this year are a little earlier than last year, “but not outside the range of observations over the years.”

To alleviate the drought, “we really just need some rain to reduce the moisture deficit in the soil, replenish the groundwater and get some water back into the streams and fields, particularly for farmers in the Shenandoah Valley area,” Cloe said.

In the district, where leaders from around the world are staying for the NATO summit, police are already working 12 hours a day until the end of this week to close roads and provide security measures related to the summit.

According to D.C. Police spokesman Tom Lynch, the heat has not caused police to cancel events or change their behavior.

“We are doing everything we can to provide water and cooling to our officers, particularly those stationed around the (NATO) top brass. But other than that, our position remains unchanged,” Lynch wrote in a text message.

Jenny Gathright, Lateshia Beachum, and Jasmine Hilton contributed to this report.

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