Six deaths linked to hot weather

July 18, 1995|By Norris P. West and Joe Mathews | Norris P. West and Joe Mathews,Sun Staff Writers Sun staff writers John Rivera, Rafael Alvarez and Robert Hilson Jr. contributed to this article.

The high temperatures steaming Maryland played a role in six deaths in the state and caused the first-ever derailment of a Metro subway train yesterday.

The deaths of Robert Podowski, a double amputee, and that of an unidentified Baltimore man may have been directly caused by heat, said Dr. John E. Smialek, the state medical examiner.

Autopsies are being performed on both men, he said.

Mr. Podowski, 39, was found Sunday in a van near 26th Street and Hampden Avenue in Hampden. He had been living in the van.

The unidentified man suffered from heart disease and a lung infection. His body temperature had reached 106, Dr. Smialek said.

In the four other deaths linked to the heat, the victims succumbed when previous medical conditions were aggravated by the weather, the medical examiner said.

Two had chronic heart disease and two had liver diseases from chronic alcoholism.

Dr. Smialek said deaths directly caused by hot weather are listed as hyperthermia, a condition occurring when body temperatures rise to 105 or higher. He said deaths classified as heat-related are caused by a combination of high temperatures and existing conditions.

Heart disease in elderly people is the most common illness accompanying heat-related deaths, he said. Other contributors to such deaths are alcoholism and drug addiction.

Maryland's heat-related death toll was lower than in some areas.

By late yesterday afternoon, 179 heat-related deaths were reported in Chicago, said Edmund Donoghue, Cook County's chief medical examiner. The toll continued to climb, he said, despite cooler temperatures yesterday.

"If you could look out of my driveway here, you would see eight or nine police vehicles lined up," Dr. Donoghue said. "Usually you don't get more than one or two police vehicles an hour."

In New York, 14 deaths were blamed on the heat, said Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the city's medical examiner's office.

The hot weather peaked in the Baltimore area Saturday when the thermometer soared to a record 102 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Sunday was cooler, with a high of 92. The high yesterday was 96.

The National Weather Service forecasts a high today of 92. A cold front was expected to move into the area, today from the northwest, drop highs into the mid-80s to high 80s by midweek.

Thunderstorms struck the area yesterday evening on the leading edge of that cold front, knocking out power to nearly 65,000 customers, said Karl Neddenien, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

Most of the outages were concentrated in Cockeysville, where 23,589 still were without power last night, Mr. Neddenien said. Parts of Baltimore, Annapolis and Baltimore and Howard counties also were affected.

The storm brought heavy rains in Baltimore County, where flooding was reported in Cockeysville and at Interstate 83 and the Beltway.

In Western Maryland, there were reports of several cars carried away by water on a road just north of Cumberland. In Frederick, a brief funnel cloud was spotted about 6:45 p.m. but dissipated within 15 seconds, the weather service said. A tree fell onto Interstate 70 near Frederick, causing the highway to be closed briefly.

Before the storms, hot weather played havoc with the Metro rails when a northbound train traveling above ground between 25 and 30 mph went off its tracks 200 yards north of the Rogers Avenue station in Northwest Baltimore just before 2 p.m. It was the first Metro accident involving passengers since the trains began operation in 1983.

The train was carrying more than 100 passengers. Officials said 24 to 31 passengers were injured, all of whom were taken by a Mass Transit Administration bus to Sinai Hospital. The injuries, which included shock and soreness in the neck and back, are considered minor, officials said.

Jerry Fair, MTA director of public safety, said the derailment was "unquestionably" caused by the sustained heat, which had forced a 15-foot section of track on a bridge over Northern Parkway to bend slightly.

Tamera Williams, 26, said she and her daughter, Shanell, 6, were on their way to Reisterstown Road Plaza when they felt a jolt and were thrown forward.

"It was real hard, like the train ran over something," Ms. Williams said two hours after the accident as she sat in the Sinai emergency room. "Then we and everyone else fell forward. . . ."

The subway was closed for "only a few minutes" while passengers were evacuated, said James Buckley, deputy administrator of the MTA.

In downtown Baltimore, the Enoch Pratt Free Library reopened its main building on Cathedral Street yesterday after workers completed installation of a new, $115,000 air-conditioning unit. Pratt Director Carla Hayden had closed the library Saturday because of heat.

In West Baltimore, Renee Walker, 30, found another way to keep cool. She sat on the steps of her Pitcher Street home and soaked her feet in a bucket of cold water.

Yesterday was a "one-bucket day," Ms. Walker said.

"On Saturday, I had to change the bucket four times," she said. "It only stayed cold for about an hour and then it's as warm as the outside."

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