CHICAGO ( Associated Press) – Temperatures climbed into the barely 90s and only lasted a few days. But the discovery of the bodies of three women inside a senior housing facility in Chicago this month has left the city searching for answers to questions that were left behind after a long and hot heat wave nearly three decades ago that killed more than 700 people. was to be addressed later.
Now, cities – and countries – are facing the reality that due to climate change, deadly heat waves Can attack almost anywhere, not just fall in the height of summer and don’t need long walks.
“May are first getting hotter and more dangerous heat waves … and secondly we’re getting older and more people are living alone,” said New York University sociologist Eric Kleinenberg. Social autopsy of the disaster in Chicago.” About the 1995 heat wave, “It’s a formula for disaster.”
The Cook County Medical Examiner’s Office has yet to determine the cause of death of the three women whose bodies were found in the James Snyder apartment. on 14 May. But the victims’ families have already filed or plan to file wrongful death lawsuits against the companies that own and manage the buildings.
The city council member, whose ward includes the neighborhood where the building is located, said she experienced a drop in temperature on campus when she visited, including a unit where heat sensors hit 102 degrees.
“These are senior residents, residents with health conditions[and]they shouldn’t be in these conditions,” alderman Maria Haden said in a Facebook video shot outside the apartment.
Experts say part of the problem is that communities across the country are still learning how deadly the heat can be. Refrigerated trucks were seen filling up with dead bodies Chicago’s 1995 heat wave sent home the message that the city was completely unprepared for a silent and invisible disaster Which killed more than twice as many people as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
That realization gave rise to a system in which the workers of the city Call in the elderly and the weak and turn city buildings into 24-hour cooling centers when temperatures become oppressive.
What happened this month is a reminder that safety measures in place to ensure people don’t starve to death because they haven’t paid their heating bills are often present to protect people from the heat in their homes. are not.
“We don’t have anything for air conditioning,” Hayden said.
One expert is not surprised.
Gregory Velenius, a professor of environmental health at Boston University who studies heat-related deaths, said: “We recognize that people need heating in cold weather and programs, financial support are needed to enable it. Establishment is done, but we don’t do that.” “But subsidies for cooling are really controversial (because) cooling is seen as a luxury item for many people.”
In Chicago, Hayden said the building’s management company believed it was not allowed to turn off the heat and turn on the air conditioning until June 1 because of the city’s heating ordinance. But when he said there is no such need for the ordinance, the clarification could at least be an indication that the ordinance should be amended to better protect vulnerable people from the heat.
Valenius said statistics show that while more than 80% of homes in cities like Dallas and Phoenix have air conditioning, the percentage is much lower in cities like Boston and New York.
And in the Pacific Northwest, the percentage is even lower, something that brought relief to Oregon, Washington and western Canada last June, when temperatures climbed to 118 degrees Fahrenheit, killing 600 people or more.
There is encouraging news.
“More people have air conditioning and we are more aware of the health risks of heat waves,” Kleinberg said.
Still, there is evidence that people don’t appreciate it or even know how dangerous heat can be.
In a study published in 2020, Valenius and other researchers estimated that about 5,600 deaths a year across the country could be attributed to high heat – eight times more than the 700 heat-related deaths the study found. More were officially reported every year.
Valenius said that the reasons for what he called a “gross miscalculation” begin with the fact that official statistics only count death certificates that list heat as the sole cause of death. In some cases, heat is not listed as a cause, even though it can cause death in people with other conditions.
He said the same thing happened in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic when people who died in nursing homes in Europe “were not tested for Covid, so they were not counted as COVID deaths.”
In Cook County, which also includes Chicago, the medical examiner’s office reported two heat-related deaths last year, and seven years ago.
It is unclear how many deaths in the US today are related to heat. The Valenius study, published in 2020, is the result of research from 1997 to 2006. And Kleinenberg said the issue is compounded by the pandemic because those at greatest risk of being killed by COVID-19 are also at greatest risk of being killed by extreme heat.
“It is difficult to differentiate additional heat deaths from COVID deaths,” he said.
Still, Hayden knows something must be done to combat the heat that can hit earlier and later than once a year.
“We have to plan for it,” she said.
Kleinenberg wonders whether cities will pursue such talks.
“Heat in cities never feels like the most important thing and by the time it seems like the most important thing, it’s too late to do anything about it,” he said.