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City Hopes to Avoid Deaths as Heat-Wave Sizzles

Kevin Killeen
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Brick man Chuck Mace working in the heat

Brick man Chuck Mace working in the heat

ST. LOUIS–(KMOX) – In the same room where they met six months ago to prepare for a blizzard,  the city’s emergency planners huddled to deal with what could be a deadly heat wave.

Health Director Pam Walker says her top priority is to avoid — if possible — heat deaths,  as the combination of near 100 degree temperatures, high humidity and old brick buildings bake the population.

“We’ve got a high level of concern for people who are homebound, elderly or disabled getting caught in this,” Walker said.

img 2212 City Hopes to Avoid Deaths as Heat Wave Sizzles

Bonnie Straub, getting by with just a fan

No heat deaths or suspected heat deaths have been reported from the latest heat wave here.   So far this summer, two St. Louis residents died from the heat.   Both had air conditioners that were either not on, or not working properly ,  Walker said.

To get ahead of the heat wave,  representatives of the mayor’s office, police, fire and area health officials plan daily meetings.   Walker says they are watching for any jump in heat illnesses or heat deaths before they declare a “heat emergency.”

At that point, the city could call some outside agency – regional fire departments or even the National Guard — to assist in going door-to-door to make sure elderly and disabled residents are alive and well.

“With the elderly in particular they just wear down over time,” Walker said, “Their internal thermostats can trick them and they stop sweating and think they’re doing fine.”

Walker wants neighbors to check on neighbors to make sure the weak are not falling prey to the heat.

Meanwhile,  across the city those who have to work are doing what they could to cope.  

At a job site where men were reclaiming red clay bricks from a partially-demolished building,  the sweaty, dusty crew took frequent water breaks in the shade.   Some workers put wet rags on their heads before heading back into the sun.

The boss,  54-year old Chuck Mace, was dripping with sweat as he loaded pallets of bricks onto a crane atop the building.   “Some days it gets to you,” Mace said, “I’ve been doing this kind of work all of my life.  I’ve gotta take the good with the bad.”

img 2203 City Hopes to Avoid Deaths as Heat Wave Sizzles

Dorothy Chandler checks on her mother, Lilly Chandler

Nearby, in a brick building that once housed a corner grocery,  Bonnie Straub was working alone on paperwork for an electrical contracting company — without an air conditioner .  “I’ve got two fans on, and the door’s open to draw some cool air in through the door, ”  Straub said, “It’s not too bad.  I try not to think about it too much.”

In a midtown neighborhood of 19th century brick flats,  Dorothy Chandler had just arrived to make sure her mother Lilly had turned on her air conditioner.   The air conditioner was on today,  but Dorothy says other days, it’s not.

“It gets hot in there,” Dorothy Chandler said,  “I come over to make sure she’s ok and drinks enough fluids.”

Others who had air conditioning complained about the dread of the electric bill arriving.   Social Security recipient Debbie Walsh says she may have to pay over $200 this month to keep two air conditioners running.  “It’s scary because you know you have to have it on, but you don’t know if you’ll have the money to pay it,” Walsh said. 

The United Way of Greater St. Louis is operating a help line to direct residents who need a break from their hot homes to the nearest of some 40 cooling centers.   The number to call is 2-1-1.

Copyright KMOX Radio

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