(AP) -- As dangerous heat and humidity smothered parts of the South and Midwest on Thursday, local governments and charities worked to protect poor and elderly residents by opening cooling stations and delivering donated air conditioners.
In Florida, where heat index levels of up to 112 degrees (44 Celsius) are forecast over the next several days, the Christian Service Center set up an "extreme heat cooling center" in Orlando for homeless people and others who don't have access to air conditioning.
"You or I complain about the heat or have to deal with it as we walk from our car to the grocery store or from our car to the air-conditioned office, but for the people we see here on campus, they wake up to that every day," Bryan Hampton of the Christian Service Center told WESH-TV.
The heat wave has contributed to at least 13 deaths in Texas and one in Louisiana. Forecasters said temperatures could rocket up to 20 degrees above average in some areas as a heat dome that has taxed the Texas power grid spread eastward.
The National Weather Service issued an excessive heat warning for parts of Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee for Thursday and Friday. Less urgent heat advisories covered a wider area that included parts of Missouri, Kansas, Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois. The heat index, which indicates how hot it feels outdoors based on the temperature and relative humidity, was expected to reach 115 degrees (46 Celsius) in several cities.
It was an added weather-related woe for some some Tennessee residents who still had no power after storms Sunday knocked down trees and power lines.
To get some relief, John Manger, 74, and his wife were sitting in shady spots outside their sweltering home in the Memphis suburb of Bartlett and taking cold showers.
"I just suck it up, with a washcloth, towel, whatever. I just sit in my chair by the window, and maybe get a breeze," said Manger, who is retired.
Their house was among more than 20,000 homes and business in Shelby County that were without electricity as of Thursday morning. Local utility Memphis Light, Gas and Water said dozens of crews were working to restore power.
The heat could also be dangerous for pets, officials warned. And for zoo animals.
"Obviously, we have some animals that love the heat and have no problems with 100 degrees at all," said Sean Putney, director of the Kansas City Zoo. Those with less tolerance were led into shaded or air conditioned areas, he said. "And we have a lot of animals that have access to water so they can cool down. Our elephants, rhinos, they can go into a mud area and care of themselves with mud, give themselves a little bit of relief."
Louisiana already has been plagued by hot weather over the past month. Between May 12 and May 24, more than 680 went to the hospital for heat-related illness, based on the most recent figures from the state Department of Health. These illnesses can range in severity from mild, such as heat rash and heat cramps, to severe, such as heat exhaustion and heatstroke.
A 49-year-old man died Sunday in Shreveport in the state's second heat death of the year. Earlier in June, a woman died in a house without power after a severe storm.
"This is very real and we need people, to not only take care of themselves, but also to look after their neighbors -- especially those who are older," Gov. John Bel Edwards said Wednesday afternoon.
In St. Louis, where smoke from Canadian wildfires has combined with the heat and humidity to worsen air quality, volunteers were taking donated window air conditioners to the elderly and needy, said Gentry Trotter, who runs Cooldownstlouis.org.
Trotter recently went into the home of an 83-year-old woman, measured the indoor temperature and found it was 105 degrees Fahrenheit (40.6 degrees Celsius). Still, she refused to accept an air conditioner.
"Somebody needs to convince her that if she doesn't have a blasting air conditioner, she's going to die," Trotter said.