Nation in grip of record hot spell

Officials in Central Md. track those most at risk

July 27, 2005|By Justin Fenton | Justin Fenton,SUN STAFF

As the temperature soared into the high 90s, local officials and social agencies throughout the Baltimore region intensified efforts to reach senior citizens and others at risk of succumbing to the stifling heat.

City workers phoned thousands of older residents to see how they were holding up and made house calls to deliver food, water and fans. Counties provided similar heat-related assistance, paying special attention to the frail, the elderly and pregnant women.

Temperatures reached 97 degrees in the Inner Harbor and 94 at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, with high humidity pushing the heat index well over 100. During last night's game at Camden Yards, Orioles right fielder Eli Marrero had to leave in the fourth inning because of heat exhaustion and for X-rays of an injured thumb.

A heat advisory issued by the National Weather Service is expected to remain in effect until 8 this evening, when cooling storms are predicted.

About 200 cities in the West experienced daily record highs last week, including 117 in Las Vegas, while overloaded generators caused a power outage in St. Louis County, Mo. Around the Baltimore area, the heat caused more than 14,000 outages last night, including 7,597 in Baltimore County. In Phoenix, Ariz., alone, deaths related to heat this summer reached 24.

For the second time this month, Baltimore declared a "code red" for consecutive days of high temperatures. City summer schools closed early; emergency cooling centers in the region extended hours; officials searched for homeless citizens needing relief from the heat.

At the city's Commission on Aging and Retirement Education, or CARE, social worker Kate Bandler dialed from a list of elderly residents deemed to be at risk, as a tiny fan blew into her cubicle. She checked to make sure they had working fans or air conditioning and were drinking plenty of fluids.

"People are very receptive," Bandler said. "We call multiple times, and they appreciate the follow-through and attention."

Bandler called the manager of an apartment where an elderly woman said her air conditioner was broken and was not being fixed; she promised to help another with her billing problems.

The center also dispatched workers with supplies for seniors. Deborah Woods, an information and referral worker, delivered a 20-inch box fan to Canton resident Genevieve Nadolny, 85, who could hardly believe the fan came free of charge.

"If this is free, it's the most wonderful thing you ever did. God bless you," Nadolny beamed.

"This is a sea change in the way we assist seniors," said John P. Stewart, the executive director of CARE, whose office aims to assist the city's senior population of roughly 110,000.

He said the Senior Citizens Emergency Response Network had been built around a database of names provided by dozens of agencies and elderly groups.

In the suburbs, both Baltimore and Harford counties have similar procedures in place, calling frail residents from a list kept in case of emergencies.

In the city, an automated message from Mayor Martin O'Malley - a "robo call," his office termed it - alerted seniors to their options regarding relief from the heat. Elliott H. Schlanger, the city's chief information officer, said the automated technology can make about 3,000 calls an hour.

On Monday, Baltimore County's 911 center received 10 calls about heat exhaustion emergencies, said Don Mohler, a county spokesman. "On an average hot summer day, we typically get about three calls," he said.

As of July 20, there had been 11 heat-related deaths in Maryland this year, eight of them in the city, according to the state health department. It would not release updated figures yesterday. Four people died last summer, and no heat-related deaths were recorded in 2003, according to state health statistics.

The three Baltimore high schools offering summer school this year - Patterson, Forest Park and Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical - dismissed classes at 10:30 a.m. yesterday. Today, the high schools will dismiss after the first period, and elementary schools offering summer programs will dismiss by noon, said school system spokeswoman Edie House.

During the regular academic year, city schools dismiss early when the heat index reaches 90 degrees or higher by 11 a.m. During the summer, it's harder to dismiss early because most programs are half-day, said Linda Chinnia, the school system's chief academic officer.

Most city schools do not have air conditioning.

At cooling stations throughout the region, senior citizens could relax in air-conditioned rooms, drink water and possibly receive fans or, in cases of extreme need, get window-unit air conditioners. They will remain open tomorrow, some with extended hours.

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