Authorities in Mexico and the southern United States have reported an uptick in heat-related deaths as high temperatures smother the region, resulting in power outages and heightened risks for those with fewer resources to stay cool.
The heat wave has resulted in at least 14 deaths in the US states of Texas and Louisiana as of Thursday.
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And on Wednesday, Mexican authorities released a report indicating that 112 people have died from heat-related causes so far this year, including 69 deaths in just one week this month.
That total was nearly three times higher than the overall number of heat-related deaths in 2022, which peaked at 42, according to Mexico’s health ministry.
But Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has cast doubt on the rising death toll, dismissing reports as part of an “alarmist, yellow-journalism trend”.
Meanwhile, the country has experienced temperatures soaring as high as 40 degrees Celsius (105 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent weeks. Many of the deaths have occurred in northern states such as Nuevo Leon, which partly borders Texas, due to heat stroke and dehydration.
Climate change a factor
Extreme weather events like heatwaves have increased in frequency and intensity partly due to climate change. The extreme temperatures can pose deadly risks to residents and disrupt services in areas such as energy and transportation.
The current heat has strained the power grid in states such as Texas.
A joint study by the Red Cross and the United Nations previously found that 38 heatwaves resulted in at least 70,000 deaths between 2010 and 2019. The actual death toll, the study added, is likely much higher.
The current heat wave stretches across the length of Mexico and the southern US, covering a region from Florida’s Panhandle west to Arizona.
US authorities urge caution
The US National Weather Service (NWS) issued excessive heat warnings in states such as Tennessee, Arkansas, and Missouri, with temperatures of more than 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit) baking the region.
Authorities have urged residents to exercise caution when contending with the sweltering outdoor conditions.
“The excessive heat warning continues for south Texas,” the Texas border city of Laredo said in a Twitter post. “Remember to drink plenty of water, never leave kids or pets in vehicles and be aware of any symptoms of heat stroke.”
Farther north in Memphis, Tennessee, city officials have enlisted residents’ help in monitoring the health of community members.
“Please, please, PLEASE make frequent checks on your family members, friends and neighbors today, especially if they are part of a vulnerable population,” Memphis officials said in a statement on social media.
Power outages amplify risks
Power outages have exacerbated the risks in cities like Memphis, where tens of thousands of residents remain without power following storms that knocked down power lines on Sunday.
“I just suck it up with a washcloth, towel, whatever. I just sit in my chair by the window, and maybe get a breeze,” John Manger, a 74-year-old retiree who lives with his wife outside of Memphis, told The Associated Press.
🚨ATTENTION LAREDO🚨 The excessive heat warning continues for south Texas. Remember to drink plenty of water, never leave kids or pets in vehicles and be aware of any symptoms of heat stroke. pic.twitter.com/Snk3XuTXr1
— City of Laredo (@cityoflaredo) June 28, 2023
While extreme heat can affect people from all backgrounds, people from low-income communities are more likely to lack resources such as air conditioning.
People with jobs involving manual labour can also face higher risks, especially if there are not laws in place to guarantee protective measures, such as access to cold water, shade and work breaks during periods of extreme heat.