MEMPHIS, Tenn. (localmemphis.com) - A relentless heat wave in the Mid-South isn't going away, and that means added health risks to the most vulnerable groups, including senior citizens. Throughout Shelby County, everyone from volunteers to fundraisers are making sure seniors are staying safe and cool in these oppressive conditions.
This comes as thousands get their power back on following weekend storms.
The heat and health concerns are magnified in areas where homeowners lost power for hours Tuesday, and across the city in Whitehaven, where thousands of neighbors are gradually getting back their electricity and getting back to normal after losing power this weekend.
"When you are sweating, it's hard,” said Sharon Phifer. “It's too hot in the house, so I sit outside, I read books, do puzzles, anything to keep you occupied."
Phifer’s Whitehaven neighborhood on Neely lost power Saturday, making conditions dangerous for the 63-year-old and other seniors on her block.
"We've got a lot of elderly neighbors and we talk to each other. We sit out at night and make sure everybody's house is ok,” said Phifer.
Thanks to high school and college students, a home in Orange Mound is getting a new roof. The homeowner is especially grateful and thankful, considering Tuesday morning she had her own heat related health scare.
"Take care of your elderly. Check on them. Always,” said Carolyn Bryant.
That message after paramedics were called to the 61-year-old’s Orange Mound home.
"Ambulance come and give me some breathing treatment this morning, so I could make it through the day, because I couldn't give myself any,” said Bryant.
Thanks to some 'Service Over Self' youth volunteers, roof relief and a cooler home are within sight for Bryant.
"Very much better. You just don't know. It's going to keep the air from going through the holes in the roof,” said Bryant.
"We are trying to do all we can to help homes be a safer place for them to live,” said Philip Walkley with Service Over Self.
The risks are real. An average of 650 Americans die each year from heat-related illnesses.
"Sometimes they don't realize how hot they are,” said Monique Stewart with the Aging Commission of the Mid-South. "It's very dangerous because you don't want anyone to fall sick due to heat exhaustion, even in the home, because if you are sitting in a hot box then your body heat is steadily rising."
"We're concerned about people who don't get out in the community. If they are just in their homes, they need some help,” said Kathryn Coulter with the Aging Commission.
Cooling help is available for eligible seniors older than 60, with free fans at the Aging Commission of the Mid-South. About 60 are currently available for eligible seniors, and hundreds more will arrive in a few weeks. (Call 901-222-4111 to learn more about the free fans.)
"For those families, it's a godsend,” said Coulter.
Back in Orange Mound, Bryant is overwhelmed and appreciative.
"I love ‘em. Because they are taking time out of their summer, where they should be swimming and stuff like that,” said Bryant.
Memphis Fire Department crews also checked on seniors and other vulnerable Memphians Tuesday morning. Memphis Gas, Light, And Water leaders expect power to be fully restored by Wednesday.