By KATHLEEN FOODY, Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) — People flocked to swimming pools, beaches and chill-out centers in a swath of the Midwest and South stretching from northern Florida to the Great Lakes on Wednesday as a heat wave pushed the temperatures in the 90s and beyond and may have caused the death of at least two people.

The National Weather Service has maintained an excessive heat warning through Wednesday evening for most of Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, which have been dealing with sticky humidity and soaring temperatures since Tuesday . And the heat advisory in place for the Midwest and South extended to coastal South Carolina, covering an area that is home to about a third of the nation’s population.

Meteorologists warned the high temperatures could be dangerous or life-threatening for some people and advised residents to stay hydrated, stay indoors if possible and take precautions if they must be outdoors. Driving home, the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office tweeted Wednesday that it was investigating the deaths of an 89-year-old man and a 39-year-old woman for “probable” heat ties.

“There are a lot of vulnerable populations exposed to this heat,” said Marshall Shepherd, professor of meteorology at the University of Georgia. “I’m particularly concerned about the high nighttime temperature. It’s what kills people if they aren’t prepared enough or don’t have the proper resources. Hurricanes grab the headlines, but the heat kills more people every year in the United States”.

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As temperatures soared into the 90s in downtown Indianapolis on Wednesday, Gary Lightle knelt on the hot steps of the Indiana World War Memorial to replace aging caulking. He wore a wide-brimmed hat and started his work day around 7 a.m., but said the heat dictated how long he stayed outside.

“Yesterday it got so miserable that we decided to quit at 3,” he said.

Foreman CJ Thrasher’s workday starts even earlier — around 5 a.m., he said, to beat the heat — typically concluding at 2 p.m.

Thrasher worked quickly to apply glue to the side of a stone wall on W Ohio Street. In the heat, the sealant stiffens faster than in cooler weather, he said, so the glue becomes less malleable.

“With this heat, just like that, it’s done,” Thrasher said, placing a small tile over an open space in the wall.

For those not on time, Wednesday’s heat inspired trips to the beach, river, pool or paddling pool, kicking off the summer swimming season a little earlier than usual in some northern regions. Authorities across the affected area encouraged people without access to air conditioning to use public cooling centers, libraries and other public places to escape the heat and humidity.

Some areas were expected to be relieved by Thursday. But the departing warm weather could bring severe thunderstorms Wednesday to Iowa, Wisconsin and points east including Michigan, according to the weather service’s Storm Prediction Center. These storms could dump large hail or cause tornadoes or damaging straight-line winds.

Utilities addressed many of the power outages caused by storms that swept across the Midwest earlier this week, but more than 200,000 customers were still without power Wednesday afternoon, according to poweroutage.us.

Joe Champion said he’s been experiencing intermittent outages at his home in Columbus, Ohio since Tuesday afternoon. Champion, 38, said he spent part of Tuesday evening in his car running the air conditioning, despite soaring gas prices in the United States.

“There was just no way I could sit in the house,” he said.

Meanwhile, crews worked Wednesday to restore water service in the West Texas city of Odessa, where residents went without this week amid scorching temperatures because a pipe aging broke.

Associated Press writers Seth Borenstein in Washington, Gretchen Ehlke in Milwaukee, Arleigh Rodgers in Indianapolis and Claire Savage in Chicago contributed to this report. Rodgers and Savage are members of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places reporters in local newsrooms to report on underreported issues.

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