DINESH RAMDE,Associated Press
MILWAUKEE (AP) — The temperatures in Casimir Brandon's basement bedroom were so stifling that the exhausted 56-year-old Madison man began riding city buses in the morning, from one end of the line to the other, so he could grab a few hours of air-conditioned sleep.
Brandon is among those searching for any kind of relief as oppressive heat slams the middle of the country with record temperatures that aren't going away after the sun goes down. So when the city of Madison transformed a vacant convention center into a 24-hour cooling center, Brandon jumped at the chance to sleep in comfort.
"I had a cot there, but I gave it up to a lady who had a kid," said Brandon. "But it's OK. I just lined up six chairs and slept like a baby. I was just so tired from the previous two days that it wasn't a problem at all."
St. Louis, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Chicago and several other Midwest cities already have set record highs this week or are on the verge of doing so. And with even low temperatures setting heat records, residents are left searching for any relief.
In the McDonough Homes public housing project in St. Paul, Minn., Chue Yang, his wife, their 8-year-old son and 11- and 12-year-old daughters have taken refuge in the children's bedroom, which has the only air conditioner in their townhome.
"We don't want to cook because it's too hot, so we stay in the bedroom," Yang, 38, said Thursday, as he rested in the air-conditioned lobby at the McDonough Recreation Center. "That's all. We don't have anything to do."
The National Weather Service issued excessive-heat warnings Thursday for all of Illinois and Indiana, as well as parts of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Missouri, Kentucky, Ohio and Michigan. Forecasts called for daytime temperatures from the mid- to high 90s into the low 100s.
St. Louis hit a record high of 105 on Wednesday and a record low of 83. In Wisconsin, the coolest Milwaukee and Madison got was 81 in the early morning, beating previous low records by 2 and 4 degrees respectively. Temperatures didn't fall below 79 in Chicago, 78 in Grand Rapids, Mich., and 75 in Indianapolis.
"When a day starts out that warm it doesn't take as much time to reach high temperatures in the low 100s," said Marcia Cronce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. "You know it'll be a warm day when you start out at 80 degrees."
Many cities have tried to help by opening cooling centers and extending the hours for their public pools. Compounding the high heat in Michigan was damage wrought by storms. More than 300,000 homes and businesses across the state were without power Thursday.
In St. Louis, where three deaths have been blamed on the heat, officials have called about 4,000 residents, many of them elderly or disabled. For those who didn't answer their phones, officials went out in person to check on them. Dozens of cooling centers have been set up, a charity is providing air conditioners, and a utility-assistance program will help about 1,500 households get caught up on their electric bills.
"It's really about saving lives. That's really what all of these activities are directed at, to keep people safe and free from harm," said St. Louis Human Services Director Bill Siedhoff, who visited some of the homes with Mayor Francis Slay.
In Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium lost power Thursday as temperatures soared to 103 degrees, a record for July 5. Officials said emergency generators immediately kicked in and the outage never threatened any of animals, but several hundred visitors were sent back out into the heat.
Some parents and grandparents in northern Indiana brought children to play on a splash pad at a park in Mishawaka.
"It beats staying in the house," Linda Maciejewski of South Bend said as she sat in the shade, watching her 7-year-old granddaughter. "There's a nice breeze off the river, then we're getting some mist off the contraptions here."
Some people, particularly in the upper Midwest, said they don't normally need air conditioning in their homes and are trying to get by without buying one.
Doug Steinke and his family in St. Paul, Minn., have been maximizing their time in places with air conditioning, including the local community center, the library and his wife's office. They have been eating uncooked fruits and vegetables and dining out when they can.
"We're a little crankier than normal," the 50-year-old stay-at-home dad said as his children, ages 3, 7 and 8, splashed in swimming lessons.
For others, getting relief has meant stepping away from work. John Rohlfing, 38, a construction worker in North Aurora, Ill., started working on a new house Thursday at 6 a.m., but he had to quit by 11 a.m. when temperatures hit 99 degrees.
"It's very dangerous in this heat, no questions about it," he said. "And when I start to feel bad I just stop."
The heat has also taken a toll on agriculture.
Dean Hines, the owner of Hines Ranch Inc. in the western Wisconsin town of Ellsworth, said he found one of his 80 dairy cows dead Thursday, an apparent victim of the heat. He said he was worried about the rest of his herd, in terms of death toll, reproductive consequences and milk production.
"We're using fans and misters to keep them cool," he said. "It's been terrible. When it doesn't cool down at night, the poor animals don't have a chance to cool down."
Associated Press writers Carla Johnson in Chicago, Robert Ray in North Aurora, Ill., Heather Hollingsworth in Kansas City, Mo., Martiga Lohn in St. Paul, Minn., Tom Coyne in South Bend, Ind., and Corey Williams in Detroit contributed to this report.
Dinesh Ramde can be reached at dramde(at)ap.org.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.