New Heat Wave Has Chicago On Alert To Help Senior Citizens Elderly Living Alone Targeted Since Last Hot Spell So Deadly
Oppressive heat and suffocating darkness seared their way into Julio Martinez’s mind during the heat wave two weeks ago. Nightmares have haunted him ever since.
“I never been scared of nothing in my life, and I was scared,” the 67-year-old Martinez said.
Martinez spent hours at his North Side apartment building carrying neighbors on his back down seven flights of stairs when his area lost power and running water. Despite his actions, two people who lived in the building died during the five-day heat wave.
As the mercury rose above 90 again this weekend, Martinez and other Chicagoans couldn’t help but think about that experience, which took some 530 lives. The high Saturday was 95.
Like the city - which issued a heat warning and called in hundreds of workers and volunteers - Martinez has developed a plan. He has arranged for community groups and relatives to pick up neighbors and offer them a respite from the heat.
Most victims of the killer heat spell that peaked at 106 degrees on July 13 were elderly and lived alone. Many feared opening windows because of crime. Others, afraid of costly electric bills, died with their air conditioners unused.
City officials have promised to reach all 440,000 senior citizens in Chicago and instituted a heat plan to warn residents about the danger. Department On Aging spokeswoman Tanya Mitchell acknowledged, however, that workers could directly reach only about 20,000 seniors.
The department called in its 50 outreach workers and solicited volunteers to staff phones and take to the streets to distribute fans and persuade the elderly to go to air-conditioned senior citizen centers.
“I think overall, we’re more alert to the dangers of heat,” Mitchell said.
City workers and volunteers went door to door Friday, urging people to turn on fans or air conditioning, open windows and drink water.
Danielle Williams, an elderly-benefits counselor at the city’s Southeast Side senior center, found fans sitting idle in many senior citizens’ homes as she roamed the streets Friday, when temperatures topped out at 89 degrees.
“All I can do is remind them and hope they listen,” Williams said.
Fear or pride kept many seniors from leaving their homes during the last heat wave.
Jeaneria Humphrey, 81, said the same is true today. She tried to get other elderly people from her Southeast Side neighborhood to relax with her at a senior center, but no one wanted to leave home.
“I think it did scare some folks,” Humphrey said. “I know it scared me.”
Katherine Strong, 62, had trouble breathing during the last heat wave as her asthma and bronchitis flared up. She did not call for help, partly out of pride, she said. She plans not to make the same mistake again.
“If it gets as hot as it was, I’ll leave home and stay with relatives who have air conditioning,” Strong said.
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