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Heat Wave Death Toll Rises to 213 Across Nation

July 17, 1995

CHICAGO (AP) _ The beeping of back-up signals permeated the quiet neighborhood surrounding the morgue as police vans unloaded their unsettling cargo: scores of heat wave victims, many elderly.

The death toll in Chicago from five days of 90-plus-degree heat rose to at least 118 by Sunday, including two elderly sisters found lying together in bed. An air conditioner whirring at the front of the house hadn’t sent enough cool air into the bedroom, officials said.

``The true scope of this problem has not yet been accounted for,″ said Cook County medical examiner Edmund Donoghue. ``We feel confident that (the death toll is) going above 200 and could reach 300.″

The 56 deaths Sunday, added to 62 others in the city since Wednesday, pushed the national death toll from heat and storms to at least 213. 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.

Meanwhile, cool air was rushing in. It was 92 on Sunday at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, compared to 102 _ a record _ on Saturday. Boston enjoyed a high of 78, down sharply from 100 on Friday, the hottest it’s been since 1977.

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.

The mercury rose to 102 degrees in New York on Saturday, breaking the old record 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 systems.

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.

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