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Oklahoma heat wave hampers elderly

MULHALL, Okla. -- The air is cool inside Ray Knight's makeshift coffee shop on the main strip in this tiny northern Oklahoma farming community, but there aren't many customers.

With temperatures topping 100 degrees, the elderly farmers and retirees who Knight says like to gather are nowhere to be seen. They're also probably not at their doctor's appointments, shopping at the store or at their club meetings. Many are afraid to go outside.

The heat wave scorching the Great Plains has turned many rural communities into virtual ghost towns for the last month, and also heightened a sense of isolation among the elderly residents who make up much of their population these days.

"I can't hardly do nothing when it's this hot," said Bryce Butler, 86, who stays at home every day in this town of 200 people. He usually drives to the county seat in Guthrie, about 15 miles away, for errands but now can't go out after noon.

"I'm afraid if I had car trouble, I'd have a heat stroke," said Mary Hasley, 79, who lives in nearby Cashion. She has canceled her doctor's appointments. "It's just too dangerous."

It's been above 100 degrees for more than 30 days in a row in many parts of Oklahoma. In the rural areas, where there are no longer any stores or other services, the elderly must drive other places for almost everything.

"We go into plenty of areas where there's not even a service station, no drugstore, no grocery stores," said Marlene Snow, who delivers meals to elderly residents as the project director of the Logan County Areawide Aging Agency. "Most of them don't want to go out. They don't have the energy."

Hasley said she's hoping for a break in the heat soon so she can make a run for supplies. "I'd love to go into town or go to Wal-Mart, but it's just too hot," she said. Until then, "I just stay in where it's cool."

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