Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Is Staying Safe in the Heat, but It's Not Over

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

St. Louis Is Staying Safe in the Heat, but It's Not Over

Article excerpt

Halfway through a dangerous heat wave gripping the St. Louis area, people appear to be taking warnings seriously and keeping themselves and others safe.

"But it's early," said Dr. David Brown, cardiologist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. With an excessive heat warning in effect until 8 p.m. Saturday, Brown warned everyone to stay vigilant by taking breaks, staying hydrated and checking on neighbors.

Area emergency rooms report lower than expected numbers of heat-related illnesses since the warning started on Tuesday. Most cases involve problems such as dehydration and exhaustion. There have been no reports of life-threatening heatstroke.

Luckily, air quality levels have mostly remained safe, according to monitoring by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Heat can result in smog, which can exacerbate respiratory problems such as asthma.

At Mercy Hospital St. Louis in Creve Coeur, emergency room doctors have seen less than a handful of people each day, said Dr. Alok Sengupta, chairman of Mercy's emergency department.

"With the triple-digit temperatures that we've been having, I think that's pretty good," Sengupta said. "People are doing a fairly good job at taking necessary precautions."

With lots of advertising and outreach, people are more aware of Cool Down St. Louis, a volunteer group that provides needy populations in the metro area with an air conditioner or utility assistance, said Gentry Trotter, the group's founder. People can access help through the group's hotline 314-241-7668 or mobile-friendly website, cooldownstlouis.org.

The group is trying to keep up with 850 inquiries this week, which Trotter says is a good thing. The biggest challenge in keeping people safe, providers say, is getting those fearful of being able to pay their bill to turn on their air conditioning.

"We've passed the word 'inundated'," Trotter said. "We are now into slammed, whammed, wang, boom."

Gary Christmann, commissioner of the St. Louis Emergency Management Agency, says a citywide effort to get safety messages out via Twitter and Facebook is making a difference, as well as a system to check on city residents who could be in danger.

After a 2006 heat wave coincided with a widespread power outage, the city developed a database of sick and elderly residents and a system to check on them in times of crisis.

"We recognized we had a deficiency in being able to locate those who are most vulnerable," Christmann said.

Since then, the system used in times of excessive heat or cold and other disasters has been fine-tuned. The database now contains the names of 6,000 residents who are to be contacted with an automated message containing safety information. Those who can't be reached are called by city employees. Those who still can't be reached get a knock on the door.

On Thursday, teams of employees spread across the city and checked on 162 homes in about four hours, Christmann said. …

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