Unrelenting heat that has baked the US Midwest and South for the past 10 days has killed more than three dozen people and even forced officials to shut down part of a nuclear reactor in Alabama because the river water used to cool it was too hot.
In all, 37 deaths have been confirmed as heat-related, and heat is suspected in 10 more, authorities said.
"This is pretty akin to a seismic event in the sense that there is no remedy, no solution that we here in this room can come up with that will take care of everybody," said Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton Jr. in Tennessee. The county's medical examiner confirmed another death Thursday that brought the death toll in Memphis alone to eight.
In Memphis, the heat reached 105 degrees (40.5 Celsius) Thursday, a record and the seventh consecutive day of triple-digit temperatures.
The Tennessee Valley Authority, the United States' largest public utility, shut down one of three units at the Browns Ferry nuclear plant in Alabama because water drawn from the Tennessee River was exceeding a 90-degree (32.22-degree Celsius) average over 24 hours. "We don't believe we've ever shut down a nuclear unit because of river temperature," said John Moulton, spokesman for the utility. The shutdown posed no safety threat, officials said. The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services said the heat has caused nine deaths there and likely caused another seven. There were also eight confirmed deaths in Illinois, four each in Arkansas and Georgia, two in South Carolina and one in Mississippi, as well as another death in Tennessee outside Memphis. Fifty-four people were treated in Alabama hospitals Wednesday and Thursday for heat-related illnesses, State Health Officer Don Williamson said.
Last summer, a heat wave killed at least 50 people in the Midwest and East. California officially reported a death toll of 143, but authorities last month admitted the number may have been far higher.