Heat Wave Death Toll Rises to 256 Across Nation
CHICAGO (AP) _ Dozens of freshly discovered casualties arrived at the Cook County morgue on Monday as the toll from Chicago’s killer heat wave reached 144 and authorities said it could eventually grow to more than double that.
``We suspect that throughout the week, people are going to find decomposing bodies,″ county Medical Examiner Edmund Donoghue told a news conference. But he said the number of victims was expected to trail off now that Midwest temperatures have fallen below the 90-mark.
The number of confirmed heat victims climbed by 28 to 144 as of noon today, Donoghue said. As of Sunday, the coroner’s office had reported 116 deaths that were confirmed to be heat related.
The morgue, already cramped for space and forced to store bodies outside in mobile refrigeration vans, added another van on Monday. Morgue workers faced 117 bodies for examination as of noon Monday compared with 87 on Saturday and 89 on Sunday. Police vans and private hearses continued to arrive with new victims.
The scene outside the morgue was grim. Masked employees worked in the blazing sun to move freshly discovered victims, many in a state of severe decomposition, from the police wagons to the loudly rumbling refrigeration vans. Inside the morgue, workers in scrubs and masks told reporters in an elevator that the stench in the examining rooms was powerful.
``We got a large number of decomposed bodies that were not acceptable to funeral homes,″ Donoghue said.
He said 65 percent of those sent to the morgue were victims of the three days of searing heat and estimated that private funeral homes in Cook County currently had 336 bodies, many of whom also apparently were heat victims.
The deaths reported in Chicago and elsewhere since last week pushed the national death toll from heat and storms to at least 256. Among those who died was an 80-year-old Pennsylvania man who’d been out sealing his tar driveway in 94-degree heat.
The death toll topped that of 1987, when at least 96 deaths from the Plains to the East Coast were blamed on heat, but didn’t approach the estimated 1,500 fatalities from a 1980 heat wave.
While the toll rose over the weekend with new reports of deaths, the worst of the stifling weather seemed to be over. It was 92 on Sunday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, compared with 102 _ a record _ on Saturday. Boston enjoyed a high of 78, down sharply from 100 on Friday, the hottest it’s been since 1977. Chicago topped out at just 92 Sunday and was predicted to have temperatures in the 80s today.
In Philadelphia, autopsies performed Sunday revealed that heat contributed to the death of 15 people, said Jeff Moran, a spokesman for the city Health Department. In New York City, 11 people died of heat-related causes in the 24 hours ending at 8 a.m. Sunday, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner. Washington, D.C., reported seven deaths apparently linked to the heat.
The mercury rose to 102 degrees in New York on Saturday, breaking the old record for the date of 98 set in 1983. The heat spurred a record 4,607 calls to New York City’s Emergency Medical Service, spokesman David Bookstaver said. The high in New York on Sunday was 84.
In Chicago, Mayor Richard M. Daley urged people to check on their elderly friends and to cool off in air-conditioned libraries and at city beaches.
Most of the Chicago victims were elderly, many of whom lived in homes with little or no cooling.
Chicago rescue workers discovered the body of Donald Stevens, a military veteran in his 70s, in his sweltering North Side home early Sunday. His dog also had died.
In the same area, Gaby Kuhn checked on her neighbor Mabel Swanson, 87, Friday and found her dead near her walker.
``We had just set up all of her fans the day before,″ said Ms. Kuhn, who noted that her neighbor _ a ``private person″ _ had refused offers to stay with others in air-conditioned homes.
Other heat wave victims in Chicago included 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.
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 and were lined up outside to help store the bodies.
Chicago Police Officer Michael Tracy had to wait in line to drop off a body.
``I’ve been doing this for 20 years on and off, and I’ve seen everything that there is to see, and I never seen so many succumb to the heat like this,″ he said.