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Morning news brief

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The newsman Dan Rather once said on TV that a close election was hotter than a Laredo, Texas, parking lot. This week, that parking lot is about as hot as it's been.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

I'm glad I'm not in a Texas parking lot...

INSKEEP: Yeah.

FADEL: ...Because much of the southern U.S. is under heat advisories, and that includes Texas. The heat is straining the power grid and breaking temperature records.

INSKEEP: Mose Buchele is with member station KUT in Austin and is covering this and, I hope, not being too hot while doing it. Good morning.

MOSE BUCHELE, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: How is this different from every other hot summer in Texas?

BUCHELE: Well, it's - usually, it's, like, in July and August when we get this big heat. But here we are in June, and we're breaking a ton of heat records, including the heat index, which is that feels-like temperature. So here in Austin last week, we hit 118 degrees. In San Antonio it was 116 heat index. In Dallas, it hit 117. And it's important to say that we're talking about the heat and the humidity here, right? So that's unusual in a lot of the state where heat waves are often associated with drought. This humidity is keeping it very hot overnight. People are obviously trying to stay inside if they can, and a lot of cities have set up cooling centers.

INSKEEP: OK, so you can't say that thing about, well, it's a dry heat. You can't dismiss it in that way.

BUCHELE: Exactly.

INSKEEP: So what if you have to work outside?

BUCHELE: Yeah, it's really tough. I was out yesterday. I ran into a guy named Andre Southall. He's a welder here in Austin who's on a job site outside. I asked him to describe what it's been like.

ANDRE SOUTHALL: Unbearable, you know? So you have to take precautions, right?

BUCHELE: Southall says that means taking breaks and, of course, staying hydrated, drinking water. This is something that's getting a lot of attention right now because Texas Governor Greg Abbott just signed a law ending mandatory water breaks for construction workers. So, like, here in Austin, for example, we had a local rule that said workers needed water breaks in the heat. State Republicans ended those worker protections. Southall's worried about that.

SOUTHALL: You know, you just - can't just tell a construction worker that's working in 100 degree heat, the heat index being 112, 15, that they can't stop and take water. That's cruel and unusual punishment, I believe.

BUCHELE: Worth remembering that extreme heat causes more deaths in the U.S. than any other kind of natural disaster. That's according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

INSKEEP: Have people died from this heat then?

BUCHELE: Oh, yeah. There have been several reports around the state. That includes nine heat-related deaths in Webb County around Laredo, a mail carrier who died on the job last week in Dallas when the heat index was around 115 degrees. Some of these deaths are still under investigation, but obviously there may be many more that we're not aware of right now.

INSKEEP: People are naturally going to wonder, how much of a factor is climate change here?

BUCHELE: Yeah. Human-caused climate change means more intense and more frequent heat waves. I talked to Victor Murphy. He's a climate program manager at the National Weather Service in Fort Worth, and he says a warmer atmosphere just holds more humidity.

VICTOR MURPHY: So as far as climate change fingerprints, I would say perhaps the increase in humidity and water vapor in the atmosphere, you know, these ridiculously high dew points that we saw.

BUCHELE: You know, another climate fingerprint, like Murphy says, could be a weakening jet stream. That's basically an air current that circles the globe. A weaker jet stream means weather can get stuck in place, like we're seeing with this heat over the South.

INSKEEP: You know, I'm remembering the extreme cold in Texas a couple years back, which devastated the power grid. I guess heat can also put a lot of strain on the grid.

BUCHELE: Yeah, absolutely. I'm keeping my eyes on the Texas grid, how it holds up. We set a new record for energy demand yesterday with (inaudible) up their ACs. It looks like we'll do it again today, probably. The other question is how this early heat could introduce drought again to the state. That could lead to more heat later in the summer, July and August. So this really could just be the first chapter in a really scorching Texas summer this year.

INSKEEP: Mose Buchele with KUT, stay cool.

BUCHELE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: In addition to heat, Texas and Florida face five cases of malaria.

FADEL: If you're thinking, wait, malaria's gone from the U.S., well, it was all but gone. Its disappearance is one of the great public health stories. Many kids learn in school how this country cut back on the mosquito-borne disease. They used insecticides and window screens and good drainage of standing water. But now it seems to be back.

INSKEEP: And NPR's Pien Huang is covering malaria's reemergence.

Good morning.

PIEN HUANG, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What is unusual about these five cases?

HUANG: Well, Steve, it's really where people got the disease. So each year in the U.S., there's about 2,000 cases of malaria, but all of those are generally travel-related. It means it's usually found in people who have come back from Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, other countries where malaria is common. These five cases are locally transmitted. So these patients got malaria where they live - four in southwest Florida and one in South Texas. And this local transmission is something that the U.S. has not seen in 20 years. So that prompted the CDC to send out an alert to doctors, telling them to look out for more cases.

INSKEEP: People have seen so little malaria. I have to ask, for those who don't know, what it is.

HUANG: So it's a disease that's caused by a parasite, and it's carried by mosquitoes. It's transmitted between people through mosquito bites. And after someone gets bitten, it can take a week or a few weeks for symptoms to show. Dr. Monica Parise with the CDC says then it can quickly become a medical emergency.

MONICA PARISE: We don't want people to have traveled to a malarious area and then, you know, get a fever and just sit at home, or if you seek care and have been given a diagnosis and you're not getting better, you need to go back.

INSKEEP: Do you know what's changed, why we would see these cases now?

HUANG: That's an open question. I mean, experts think that what's happened is that a few factors aligned. So maybe there was an influx of travelers who came back with malaria, got bitten by mosquitoes in the U.S. Maybe that's coincided with a lot of rain, a lot of heat and humidity. These are conditions that mosquitoes and the malaria parasites really thrive under. And probably what happened is that these forces combined to cause a flare of cases.

INSKEEP: You know, I study a lot of history. So, you know, you read about the 19th century. You read about malaria in the United States. I mean, it killed people then, or it would just devastate their health for a long time. How dangerous is this?

HUANG: Well, it depends on the country and also the strain. And so specific to the U.S., around 15 out of every 100 people who get malaria get seriously ill. And every year, we do see a few people who die from it. And one thing to note is that malaria can be caused by 1 of 5 different parasite species. And these cases in the U.S. are caused by one called Plasmodium vivax. Steve, there's good news and there's bad news that comes with that. So the good news is that this is not the most deadly one, although people still can be laid up for weeks with illness. The bad news is that this is a species that can hide out in a person's liver and come back after a few weeks or a few months. It's called recurrence. And so that makes it extra important for people to get the right diagnosis and take the right drug so that people can fully kick these parasites.

INSKEEP: I'm just making a wild guess, Pien, that if we know of five cases, there may be more than five cases. Should we expect that malaria is going to become a larger problem in the United States?

HUANG: Well, there's probably more than five cases. But at the moment, the CDC says they're not expecting a huge outbreak. You know, malaria, as you mentioned, used to be a big problem in the U.S., and it's actually the reason the CDC was founded back in the 1940s. They did a lot of work going door to door, and that led to the disease actually being eliminated from the U.S. by the early 1950s. So they're watching these cases closely. In the best-case scenario, these cases are a blip. But they are checking to make sure that they're not a sign of a bigger problem.

INSKEEP: NPR's Pien Huang, thanks so much.

HUANG: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: The president of Honduras is ordering a crackdown on gangs.

FADEL: The government released images showing police going cell to cell in jails, moving prisoners around and searching. They've also thrown up roadblocks in the streets and made mass arrests.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta is covering all this from his base in Mexico City.

Eyder, good morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: What led to this crackdown?

PERALTA: So it - Honduras just had a gruesome week. It started with a gang attack on a women's prison just outside the capital, Tegucigalpa, and that left 46 women dead.

INSKEEP: Wow.

PERALTA: Some had been burned to death, others shot, others stabbed. The president, Xiomara Castro, said that the attack had been planned by gangs, but, she said, quote, "under the watchful eye and with the approval from prison authorities." And then this past weekend - more carnage. At least 20 people were dead, including 13 people when a gunman opened fire at a pool hall.

INSKEEP: OK, so how is the government trying to root gangs out?

PERALTA: So, look, they had tried to get this violence under control in the past. At the end of last year, they suspended some civil rights in some parts of the country. But then we had all this violence. And after the attack on the women's prison, President Xiomara Castro promised, quote, "drastic measures." And now we know what she meant by that. Police, as you said, have set up roadblocks. They've announced a curfew, and they're working their way through the prisons. They've confiscated knives and grenades and assault rifles.

And police have released videos showing inmates, just in their boxers, being lined up outside. They're being made to cower. And all you see is this mass of tattooed flesh. And this is almost exactly the kind of images that we've seen coming out of El Salvador, where they've gone after gangs viciously. They've suspended their civil rights. They've tortured gang members, and they've kept them in overcrowded prisons. And Gustavo Sanchez, who's the director general of the police in Honduras, gave a speech that seems to promise more of this. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

GUSTAVO SANCHEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So he's saying that in the next few days, they will send a proposal to Congress to declare any gang member a terrorist. And, of course, that's the same thing that El Salvador calls its gang members.

INSKEEP: I remember some of your amazing reporting from El Salvador on some of the extreme measures the government has taken there, even though many people did support those extreme measures. Honduras is going for the same thing?

PERALTA: Yeah, I think there's no doubt that that is exactly what's happening, but in a limited way. El Salvador has fully suspended certain civil rights, and they've done so for over a year, but Honduras has only done it for parts of the country. So they seem to be crawling toward El Salvador. And I think that's why it's important to watch these developments, because the security situation is in a pretty dire way in a lot of Latin American countries. So, I mean, of course, people see the human rights abuses that are happening in El Salvador. But a lot of analysts I've spoken to say that people are so sick of crime that they're willing to sacrifice democracy or personal freedoms if it means that they can sleep easy at night.

INSKEEP: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.