Extreme heat is in store

Residents urged to look out for isolated, frail neighbors

June 07, 2008|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

It could be a scorcher.

While many people might beat the heat this weekend with trips to the beach or a pool - or by simply parking themselves in front of an air conditioner - others might not have any way to cool down.

"When it's hot, it can be dangerous," Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday as she issued the season's first Code Red heat alert, starting today and lasting at least through Monday. "The goal is simple: to save lives."

With temperatures likely to climb well into the 90s this weekend and Monday, the alert mobilizes city agencies to look out for residents who might be isolated and unable to care for themselves if overcome by heat. Water will be distributed to the homeless, cooling centers throughout the city will be open, and people will be urged to report problems or cases requiring aid through the 311 nonemergency number.

"We want our citizens to look out for each other and themselves," Dixon said outside City Hall and suggested that residents invite neighbors to their homes if they think it might be helpful.

Lt. Robert Maloney, director of the city's Office of Emergency Management, recalled that, as a paramedic a few years ago, he responded to a call about an elderly man who had collapsed outside a drugstore with a body temperature of 105 degrees - perilously high.

"If we all pull together, we can get through intense periods of heat," Maloney said.

The National Weather Service issued an "excessive heat watch" for the Baltimore and Washington areas and predicted a "prolonged period" of high temperatures.

Twenty people - one of them in Baltimore - died in Maryland last summer from problems related to excessive heat. There were 21 such deaths in 2006 and 47 in 2005, according to Karen Black, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

"It might not be summer, but it feels like summer," Black said yesterday. "We know it can translate into heat stroke, heat exhaustion and, unfortunately, sometimes even death."

The Health Department warned that, although summer is technically two weeks away, "hot and humid weather is knocking on Maryland's door."

"Everyone should be careful in hot weather, especially elderly people, young children and those who are overweight," said the state's health secretary, John M. Colmers. "While chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and respiratory illnesses increase an individual's risk, there are things people can do to protect themselves."

People are advised to drink fluids such as water and fruit juices to prevent dehydration and to be aware that alcohol can impair the body's sweat mechanism, as can medications such as antihistamines and diuretics.

"Athletes and those who work outdoors should, if possible, take short breaks when feeling fatigued," state health officials suggested. They also urged people never to leave animals or children in vehicles, even with windows partway open.

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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