July 17, 1995 in Nation/World

Deadly Heat Kills Hundreds Senior Citizens Being Hit The Hardest By Days Of Suffocating Temperatures

From Wire Reports
 

They came like a parade of death: police truck after police truck, delivering bodies to the Cook County morgue until finally there was no more room for the dead.

Wicked heat is being blamed for hundreds of deaths across the eastern half of the country, and perhaps 300 deaths in Chicago alone, said Dr. Edmund Donoghue, the medical examiner for Cook County, where refrigerated trucks are being used to store the overflow from the morgue.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in my life,” said Donoghue. “We’re overwhelmed.”

Fifty-six deaths were reported in Chicago on Sunday. With the 62 deaths logged in the city since Wednesday, the national toll from heat and storms rose to at least 213, including an 80-year-old Pennsylvania man who had been sealing his tar driveway in 94-degree heat.

Most of the Chicago victims were elderly, and scattered power outages caused by heavy demand knocked out fans and air conditioning, compounding the problem as temperatures rose into the 90s.

Chicago human services crews traveled door-to-door in North Side neighborhoods, where senior citizens and poor families live in a warren of old apartment buildings that have had no electricity or water for two days.

Many sought refuge in the air-conditioned homes of friends, while others slept in parks.

Those who remained at home wandered unlighted corridors in as little clothing as possible - in some cases, none. They stayed awake through the night, afraid they’d die undetected in their apartments.

Among Chicago’s dead were a 75-year-old woman and her 65-year-old husband, found dead in their 120-degree bedroom Friday with a ceiling fan whirring overhead.

“We wondered why they were in the bedroom and not in the basement where it’s cool, but they couldn’t walk down there,” neighbor Danyel Gooch said.

Elsewhere, lighting struck and killed a newly married man and his brother in McDonald, Ohio, as they played horseshoes at the wedding reception on Saturday, Police Chief Jim Tyree said.

The national death tally topped the count in 1987 when at least 96 deaths from the Great Plains to the East Coast were blamed on heat, but it doesn’t approach the 1980 heat wave which killed an estimated 1,500.

Although it hatched storms, cool air was rushing in. It got up to only 92 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, compared with Saturday’s record of 102. Boston had a high of 78, down sharply from Friday’s 100, the hottest it had been since 1977.

In Philadelphia, autopsies performed Sunday revealed that heat had contributed to the deaths of 15 people, said Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the city Health Department. The city’s first two heat-related deaths had been reported Saturday.

In New York City, 11 people had died of heat-related causes in the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Sunday, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner.

Temperatures hit a grueling 102 degrees Saturday, breaking the record of 98 set in 1983, spurring a record 4,607 calls to New York City’s Emergency Medical Service, spokesman David Bookstaver said.

Chicago’s latest death count was announced after 94 autopsies had been performed Sunday.

“It’s a disaster,” medical examiner spokesman Mike Boehmer said. “On a normal day, we get 17 bodies, but it can go up into the 30s on a very hot day.”

It hit 93 Sunday for Chicago’s fifth consecutive day above 90. Saturday’s high was 98, and the all-time record of 106 was set Thursday.

Two of Chicago’s dead were sisters in their 70s, found lying together in bed. An air conditioner whirring at the front of the house hadn’t sent enough cool air to the bedroom.

“One officer came out of the house and said, ‘Oh, my God, it must be 200 degrees in there,”’ neighbor Santa Garcia said.

As police vans filled with the dead rolled in, the morgue’s 222 galleys were filled and other bodies lay on wooden shelves. Seven refrigerated trucks, which hold 30 bodies each, had been brought in Saturday.

Outside, technicians taking a break said the sight of so much death was nearly too much to take.

“Oh man, I don’t want to go back in there,” one worker muttered.

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: 1. ‘IT WAS BAD, BAD, BAD’

Notebook

How hot was it? Here’s what some sufferers had to say and how they coped with the heat: “It was like being smacked with a baseball bat,” said Kenny Anderson, 34, a construction worker from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where the highest temperature in the state was reported, 106. “I lay under a tree with wet towels over me. It became too much work, every half hour changing towels. They dried right out. I lost 5 pounds yesterday just from the sweating.” “Oh, God, I felt like I was going to pass out,” said Rita Ruparelia, a native of Uganda who runs Rita’s Breakfast and Lunch Trailer in Warrior’s Park in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Nothing, nothing was cool. It was bad, bad, bad. I never felt like that. I was short of breath.” In Newark, which recorded New Jersey’s highest temperature at 104, the Hayes Park East pool was so packed with swimmers that visitors were rotated in and out in shifts. The head lifeguard, Lenny Jones, said the pool was closed on Friday because of near-riot conditions. But after the gates were closed, people simply climbed over them. It was so hot that customers at a Texaco station in Danbury, N.J., refused to open the windows of their airconditioned cars. “It was quite brutal,” said Matthew Daly as he sat near the pump. Customers would flash their fingers to indicate how much gasoline they wanted. - New York Times

2. BEATING THE HEAT With Spokane-area temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s this week, doctors offer these common-sense tips: Drink water constantly; Sit quietly in cool places, such as parks or air-conditioned buildings; Forgo alcohol; Take baths or showers; Refrain from strenuous activities.

These sidebars appeared with the story: 1. ‘IT WAS BAD, BAD, BAD’

Notebook

How hot was it? Here’s what some sufferers had to say and how they coped with the heat: “It was like being smacked with a baseball bat,” said Kenny Anderson, 34, a construction worker from Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where the highest temperature in the state was reported, 106. “I lay under a tree with wet towels over me. It became too much work, every half hour changing towels. They dried right out. I lost 5 pounds yesterday just from the sweating.” “Oh, God, I felt like I was going to pass out,” said Rita Ruparelia, a native of Uganda who runs Rita’s Breakfast and Lunch Trailer in Warrior’s Park in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. “Nothing, nothing was cool. It was bad, bad, bad. I never felt like that. I was short of breath.” In Newark, which recorded New Jersey’s highest temperature at 104, the Hayes Park East pool was so packed with swimmers that visitors were rotated in and out in shifts. The head lifeguard, Lenny Jones, said the pool was closed on Friday because of near-riot conditions. But after the gates were closed, people simply climbed over them. It was so hot that customers at a Texaco station in Danbury, N.J., refused to open the windows of their airconditioned cars. “It was quite brutal,” said Matthew Daly as he sat near the pump. Customers would flash their fingers to indicate how much gasoline they wanted. - New York Times

2. BEATING THE HEAT With Spokane-area temperatures expected to reach the mid-90s this week, doctors offer these common-sense tips: Drink water constantly; Sit quietly in cool places, such as parks or air-conditioned buildings; Forgo alcohol; Take baths or showers; Refrain from strenuous activities.


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