Heat takes its toll: Roads buckle and emergencies surge as temperatures rise

BATON ROUGE — Amidst scorching temperatures and near-record heat over the past several days, roads in the area have started to buckle, while grass fires put a strain on local firefighters, and emergency crews are responding to a higher number of heat-related calls compared to previous years.

Road concerns

In three recent incidents, the heat caused problems on area roads from Acadiana to Baton Rouge. According to a spokesperson from the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, these occurrences took place on Airline Highway and I-10 in Ascension Parish and Johnston Street in Lafayette.

Pavement buckles can happen when the air temperature undergoes a sudden change from moderate to extreme heat. During road construction, the pavement is divided into segments to allow for expansion and contraction, as the DOTD explains. However, sometimes the space allocated for this purpose is insufficient, causing the pavement to buckle or blow up, especially in the case of older and weaker pavement.

The spokesperson said pavement buckling happens anywhere that it gets really hot. Workers cut out the buckle and replace it with asphalt mix to fix the situation.

Firefighters battled grass fires for three days in Ascension Parish

Sections of I-10 were closed on Saturday and Sunday in Ascension Parish. Volunteer firefighters from Ascension Parish Fire District 1 fought a large field fire, which involved large trees and dry conditions.

Fire Chief James Leblanc said that the fire lasted for three days, during which over 40,000 gallons of water were utilized to get it under control, and 46 volunteer firefighters contributed to the firefighting efforts. The firefighters spent a total of 14 hours at the scene.

Ascension Parish Fire District 1 encompasses all volunteer fire departments in the parish.

A spokesperson from Baton Rouge Emergency Medical Services reported receiving six calls for heat-related emergencies over the weekend and a total of 14 calls throughout the previous week.

In June 2022, EMS responded to 51 heat-related calls, compared to 54 in June 2023.

LDH releases report

During June, the Louisiana Department of Health published a report titled “Heat-Related Illness in Louisiana: Review of Emergency Department and Hospitalization Data from 2010-2020.”

The report was created to provide communities with accurate and reliable data on the impacts of extreme heat. Prepared by LDH’s Occupational Health & Injury Surveillance Program, the report also identified disparities in heat-related illnesses, with men and Black residents being disproportionately affected.

The report indicated that men accounted for over 80 percent of all cases. Heat-related illnesses are often associated with occupational hazards, and men are more likely than women to work in physically demanding outdoor occupations such as construction, agriculture, landscaping, and utilities. Moreover, Black Louisiana residents experienced higher rates of hospitalization.

The parishes with the highest rates of workers suffering from heat-related illnesses were concentrated in North Louisiana. Hospitalizations also increased with age, with individuals aged 20 to 39 representing 40 percent of all heat-related emergency department visits and exhibiting the highest rates, followed by individuals aged 40 to 59.

  • Symptoms of heat exhaustion can include muscle pain or spasms; cold, pale, clammy skin; tiredness or weakness and dizziness; and headache and fainting. 
  •  Seek medical attention for heat exhaustion if you’re throwing up and/or if your symptoms last longer than one hour. 
  •  High body temperature; hot and red or dry or damp skin; fast, strong pulse; dizziness; nausea or vomiting; confusion; and fainting or loss of consciousness.
  •  If someone is experiencing heat stroke, call 911 immediately, move the person to a cooler place, loosen clothes, and cool the person quickly by wetting or applying ice to the neck, armpits and groin areas. Do not give the person anything to drink.

Ways to stay safe

  • Air conditioning is the strongest protection against heat-related illness. Exposure to air conditioning, even for a few hours a day will reduce the risk of health-related illness.
  •  Drink plenty of fluids. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty. Avoid alcohol, caffeine and sugary drinks.
  •  Limit outdoor activity to morning and evening hours.
  •  Stay in the shade.
  •  Check on people who live alone, especially older people.

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