DC area residents beat the heat

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In an earlier version of this story, Amelie Balemaken’s name was misspelled. This story has been corrected.

Amelie Balemaken wore a flowy dress and ball cap as she leaned against a giant orange tube and watched her delighted 3-year-old daughter collect water in a plastic bucket, dump it, and start over.

“We are so happy,” said Balemaken. “I didn’t know we were going to have so much fun.”

Turkey Thicket Recreation Center was one of about 17 spray parks to open Saturday in DC after a few problems, and a week earlier than usual as part of the citywide plan to adjust to scorching temperatures for late spring.

The region hit near record low to mid 90s temperatures, the Capital Weather Gang reported after 4 p.m. Saturday. The hotter-than-usual spring day left anyone with outdoor plans or small children entertained while seeking shade and activities. And the extreme weather presented a greater challenge to the city’s homeless population.

In DC, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) has activated the heat emergency plan through Sunday evening, including the opening of additional cooling centers across the city. Shelters will remain open 24/7 as they have been since the start of the pandemic.

Montgomery Soccer Inc., a youth league in Montgomery County, Maryland, has issued a heat advisory with strict guidelines for mandatory water breaks.

City officials across the region reminded residents to protect themselves and others from the heat by staying indoors or in the shade whenever possible, checking on elderly neighbors, drinking plenty of fluids and wearing hats and sunscreen.

Lisa Starghill had those bases covered Saturday when she set up the Turkey Shrub Pavilion for a cookout for her daughter’s graduation. They already had a lot of reactions, but she suspected the spray park would entice more friends and family with children to brave the heat.

“It’s summer! It’s DC! I’m so glad it didn’t rain. Sometimes you have to put the heat aside and say, ‘It’s worth it,'” said Starghill, who put up a congratulatory banner and wore a T-shirt with the photo of her daughter Christian Jasmine.

Growing up and still living in the area, she and her sister, Angel Johnson, were eager to celebrate their neighborhood as well.

The Rose family planned to pick strawberries on Saturday and then considered gardening, but the weather forecast pointed to only one option: a spray park.

Alexis Rose handed out snacks to Elliot, 3, and Remy, nearly 1, and recalled a bleak summer of 2020, when the early days of the pandemic, pre-vaccine, meant spray parks and swimming pools were off limits.

“We’re finally getting the chance to take the kids to a splash park,” said her husband, David Rose.

Not everyone in DC was so lucky.

About an hour after opening time, some parks were still dry, prompting the Parks and Recreation City Council to tweet“We are working with our maintenance partner and have sent technology to our splash parks that are not powered on. We will get them up and running as soon as possible.”

Parks came alive all day and the desk tweeted photos to prove it.

“This was actually a good trial because they’re all going to open next week,” said parks department spokesman Michael Tucker, not pun intended. “They’re underway. It was just a little bumpy in the beginning.”

Summer really kicks off on Friday, when Bowser plans to jump into Upshur Pool to launch the summer pool season in DC, he said.

Kayla Baum and Sierra Salvatierra, who are new to town, were among about 20 people queuing at a Rita’s Ice for a cold treat. They took another morning walk on the Billy Goat Trail, but planned to spend the rest of the day indoors.

“Nothing feels good to be moist all the time,” Salvatierra said.

Although the scorching heat came earlier than expected, Balemaken, who is from Cameroon, said it didn’t bother her or her daughter Susan, who was wearing pink-and-blue sunglasses.

“It is very important for the child’s well-being to have fun. Kids are supposed to have fun,” she says.

The spray park is free — a plus in difficult pandemic times, she said — and the best way she could think of spending her only weekend day off with Susan.

By the way, she said, by Monday, the forecast calls for a high in the low to mid-70s.

That’s good news for the city’s street teams, who visit people who are homeless on a daily basis, but step up their relief efforts on extremely hot days.

This weekend they carried rolling bags of water and informed people living outside of the forecast. They talk to them about places to find shelter and remind them that transportation is available.

Separate shelters for men and women, and families seeking emergency shelters, can call 311 at any time, city officials say.

Heat can have serious consequences, especially so early in the season before people are used to high temperatures.

High temperatures lead to more deaths in the district than any other weather-related event, including frigid winter temperatures and storms, said Christy Respress, executive director of Pathways to Housing DC, a nonprofit that provides permanent housing to people who are homeless.

“It’s not something people necessarily think about,” she said. “But if you’re someone who has a place to live, you can also go in and have a place to cool off.”

Libraries offer a respite from the scorching temperatures, but it can be challenging for people to find comfortable and welcoming places.

Some people who are homeless also have complex medical conditions that put them at higher risk for heat stroke, and may be on medications or coping with substance abuse problems that put them at greater risk for dehydration, she said.

If it’s very hot, the main recommendation is to say indoors “which isn’t an option if you’re experiencing homelessness,” Repress said.

Cooling centers provide a place to enjoy the air conditioning, grab a snack and water, charge a phone and use the bathroom, she said, “as we all want on a hot day.”

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