Cities Move to Stop Heat-Related Deaths

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL), August 1, 2008 | Go to article overview

Cities Move to Stop Heat-Related Deaths


Byline: Associated Press

PHOENIX The homeless woman was nauseated, dizzy, drenched with sweat,

dehydrated and sobbing with fear. She had heat exhaustion and was on the verge of heat stroke.

But she had come to the right place, a church turned into a refuge from the overpowering heat.

"She was out of her mind almost, just mentally, emotionally and physically drained," said Arlene Atkin, a registered nurse and pastor at North Hills Church. "She was absolutely at the point of going under."

Atkin put the woman under a shower and gave her all the water she could drink actions that may have saved her life that searing day last summer. Not everyone in the same situation is so fortunate.

In recent years, deadly heat waves have killed dozens to hundreds of people at a time in various U.S. cities, often catching local officials unprepared. Climate scientists say more killer heat waves lie ahead with global warming, and city officials are taking note.

A number of cities especially those hard-hit in the past, such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Phoenix get aggressive when a heat wave emerges. They open cooling centers, hand out water bottles, go door to door to check on people, and even ask utilities not to shut off electricity to late-payers during a heat wave.

In recent days, much of the country has experienced dangerously high heat.

Denver just shattered a 134-year-old record of temperatures topping 90 for 19 days in a row. An excessive heat warning is in place for Phoenix, which is expected to top 110, with lows falling only to around 90.

Nashville was forecast to reach a near-record 98 on Sunday. High humidity made it feel like 100 degrees in much of South Carolina and 107 in Austin, Texas.

"Its already started," said Gerald Meehl, senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. "As the average climate warms up, the heat extremes will become more extreme, and well have more intense, more frequent and longer-lasting heat waves as we progress through the 21st century."

So far this year roughly 50 people have died from the heat, according to news reports.

Heat waves lack the dramatic destruction of earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, but at 8,015 deaths, heat has killed more people in the U.S. than all those other weather events combined in the 24-year period ending in 2003, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Its sort of been the quiet killer for many years," said Tony Haffer, meteorologist in charge for the National Weather Service in Phoenix.

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