Oklahoma’s governor this week declared a state of emergency for all of the state’s 77 counties, citing extreme or exceptional drought conditions.
“Extreme heat and dry conditions continue to affect the entire state,” Gov. Mary Fallin said in a statement issued about her emergency declaration. “My administration will be ready to help provide whatever aid and assistance it can as Oklahoma communities work to cope with this drought.”
Fallin’s executive order reportedly allows state agencies to make “emergency purchases” related to disaster relief and preparedness, and is supposed to be the first step toward seeking federal assistance if it is needed, according to a press release.
But at the local level, officials see no financial assistance being offered by the state.
“There is no money right now,” Tahlequah-Cherokee County Emergency Management Director Gary Dotson said on Wednesday. “There was a meeting with the state office ... and there’s no money at all available for any type of aid at this time.”
Dotson said the local EM office is also unable to purchase bottled water for local firefighters who are battling blazes in the extreme heat – something the EM office has been able to do in the past.
Ryan Hardaway, director of the local American Red Cross chapter, suggests taking added precautions during the heat. Children, the elderly, and those who suffer from health-related problems or work outdoors are especially susceptible.
“Slow down; avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity, do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4 a.m. and 7 a.m.,” said Hardaway.
Wearing lightweight, light-colored clothing helps reflect some of the sun’s energy. Drinking plenty of water regularly, even when not thirsty, will help deter health problems.
“Water is the safest liquid to drink during heat emergencies. Avoid drinks with alcohol or caffeine in them,” said Hardaway. “They can make you feel good briefly but make the heat’s effects on your body worse. This is especially true about beer, which dehydrates the body.”
It’s also important to eat small meals, and to eat more often.
“Avoid foods that are high in protein, which increase metabolic heat,” said Hardaway.
Hardaway suggests staying indoors as much as possible.
“If air conditioning is not available, stay on the lowest floor out of the sunshine,” he said.
In some communities, officials are able to offer cooling shelters for residents who have no air conditioning or who might have no home to go to.
Dotson said emergency management offices in larger communities are often able to coordinate the opening of cooling shelters, but he said the local EM isn’t able, financially, to support such projects at this time.
According to Dr. Mary Thompson, of the Tahlequah City Hospital emergency department, eight patients have been seen in the past two weeks for possible heat-related illnesses.
“This excessive heat is extremely dangerous,” said Thompson. “Everyone should stay inside as much as possible.”
She offered suggestions similar to those provided by Hardaway, and said adults should be sure no child or pet is left inside a vehicle, even for a short period of time.
And when feeling ill – especially with headaches, nausea, vomiting, or muscle cramps – visit an emergency room, Thompson suggests.
Officials in Cherokee County urge residents to be good neighbors to others by checking on the elderly or sick, and providing help to those who might not have air conditioning or other necessities during the heat.
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