Heat blisters Midwest states

BY HENRY BRIER | CHICAGO | August 2, 2001



"We help get them to a cool place where they can cool down for a couple of hours and give the system time to recuperate."

—Lisa Elkuss


As the sun's ultraviolet rays blister the Midwest, regional human services

organizations and agencies are stepping up efforts to help provide citizens

opportunities to stay refreshed.

"The humidity is making it feel about 110 degrees outside," said Jessica

Miller, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross chapter in Chicago.

"Humidity blocks the ability of sweat to evaporate, making it harder for

the body to cool off."

As the calendar flips to August and the Dog Days of summer set in,

officials are warning people to be careful of the sun and its potentially

lethal capacities.

Public utility services and agencies in the City of Chicago have embarked

on an aggressive program to help people in the city, according to Lisa

Elkuss, a spokeswoman for the Chicago Department of Human Services.

She said the city of Chicago had about 500 heat-related deaths in Summer

1995, prompting the city to prepare itself in order to prevent another

disaster.

"That was our wake-up call. There is whole network of facilities that are

turned into cooling centers," Elkuss said. "There is an info line to the

city, and teams are sent out on checks. We send a team of social workers,

we supply some people with water or fan, and we can help them get a doctor.

"We help get them to a cool place where they can cool down for a couple of

hours and give the system time to recuperate."

She said the local media has been reporting about 14 deaths, and as

compared to Summer 1995, the city has experienced quite a difference.

"We really need to be prepared for it," Elkuss said. "We feel we've been

very successful."

In St. Louis, officials are operating a program called Operation Weather

Survival, according to Matt Gerke, a spokesman for the Salvation Army in

St. Louis.

Sixteen metropolitan cooling-site locations are operating in the city where

the temperature has been in the mid-90s and the heat index is well over

100, Gerke said.

But the sites are not being used as much as officials hoped.

"They're not seeing much action," Gerke said. "Not many people are using

our facilities, but we are open and prepared for them, and they are

welcome."

In Springfield, the capital of Illinois located about three hours southwest

of Chicago, officials also are on alert because of excessive heat.

The city is operating shelters, a community nursing program and checking on

the well being of senior citizens, according to Ray Cook, director of

Springfield Department of Public Health.

The American Red Cross chapter of Sangamon Valley in Springfield is

enhancing its efforts for the Meals on Wheels" program, according to Mary

Ogle, the organization's chief executive officer.

"Every day when they deliver the meal, our volunteer engages the person in

conversation," Ogle said. "If we feel the person is not OK or we're worried

about them, we call the emergency contact."

Officials advise people to wear light-colored and loose-fitting clothing,

stay indoors and avoid strenuous activity in the middle of the day, and to

drink water.

They also suggest that able-bodied people visit elderly neighbors to check

in on them and make sure they're OK.

Some people said their efforts are oriented toward preventing what has

happened before.

"We take the heat advisory seriously because we've seen the disastrous

results," Miller said.


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