Advertisement

Death Toll From Heat Rises to Nearly 300 Across U.S. : Weather: Chicago alone certifies 179 deaths, with more expected as autopsies are completed. But cooling trend over Midwest already is evident.

Share via
TIMES STAFF WRITER

The grim accounting continued here Monday as the Cook County medical examiner’s office autopsied 115 bodies while police wagons kept lining up in the morgue parking lot with more. The tally of deaths certified as related to last week’s heat wave grew to 179, bringing the number of weather-related deaths around the nation over the last week to at least 291.

While temperatures cooled to 88 degrees--still above normal but well below the 106 degrees at Midway Airport on Thursday--Christopher Morris, business manager for the medical examiner’s office, said he expects that fatalities in Chicago alone will number more than 300.

By Monday, 303 bodies had been examined at the morgue. Another 336 are being held at various funeral homes.

Advertisement

Most of those, he said, would be bodies of those who died during the peak triple-digit days from Wednesday through Saturday, but are only being discovered now. Most of the victims have been elderly people who lived alone.

If Morris’ forecast is correct, the sweltering summer of 1995 would rank with killer heat in 1983 and 1988, which caused 556 and 454 deaths, respectively. It could still fall far short of the 1,700 heat victims in 1980.

“It’s not over,” said Mayor Richard M. Daley, who added that he had asked that Chicago be declared a federal disaster area. One grocer said he had lost more than $40,000 worth of goods in the power outage caused by unprecedented use of electricity during the worst of the heat.

Eighty-one miles to the north, Milwaukee--with about 25% of the population of Chicago--reported 40 deaths tied to the heat. “We still have cases coming,” said the city’s medical examiner, Jeff Jensen.

Philadelphia listed heat as contributing to the deaths of 15 people; in New York City, 11 died of heat-related causes over the weekend. Washington, D.C., reported seven hot-weather fatalities.

“This is a periodic phenomenon, every 10 to 20 years,” said T. Stephen Jones, a physician who was lead investigator for a study of July, 1980, heat deaths in St. Louis, where 113 heat-related deaths were recorded, and in Kansas City, Mo., where 133 deaths were tied to sustained high temperatures.

Advertisement

“It happens most often in late June and early July, and in the Midwest, because people are not acclimatized to the heat,” Jones said. “They’ve got a greater jump from lower temperatures to higher temperatures. That’s one reason you don’t see killer heat waves in places like Phoenix.”

Chicago’s convoy of heat victims began on Friday afternoon, stunning workers at the morgue. By Monday, seven refrigerated trucks were storing the overflow, while funeral homes kept more than 300 more.

Masked employees moved the corpses, many badly decomposed, from the backed-up vans and hearses to the rumbling storage trucks. Inside, the examining rooms were filled with an overpowering stench.

“We got a large number of . . . bodies that were not acceptable to funeral homes,” said chief medical examiner Edmund R. Donoghue.

Still, conditions were improving, with Canadian air settling over Chicago and a high of 82 degrees predicted for today.

The power outages that plagued the city since Friday, robbing residents of the cooling influence of air conditioners and fans, finally ended. Commonwealth Edison spokesman Art Massa said electricity was fully restored on Monday. All told, 41,000 people had gone without power at some point, 25% of them for periods lasting longer than 12 hours.

Advertisement

Times researcher John Beckham also contributed to this story.

Advertisement