The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

July 10, 2012

7 more confirmed heat deaths in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS — The scorching heat wave is now blamed for a dozen deaths in the St. Louis area, including 10 in the city.

Seven of the deaths were confirmed Monday by the city’s Medical Examiner’s office: Six people ages 62 to 84 and one child. Authorities say 8-year-old Altamesa Dobson died Friday after she was found in a room without an air conditioner, though other rooms in the apartment had air conditioning. An investigation continues.

In addition to the 10 St. Louis deaths, a 72-year-old woman’s body was found Friday in St. Louis County inside her home, where the air conditioner was not functioning. The other victim was an 88-year-old woman in Troy, Ill., found by relatives Sunday. An air conditioner had been switched to “heat” instead of “cool.”

It wasn’t immediately clear how many heat-related deaths have been confirmed across Missouri. A spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services did not immediately respond to an interview request on Tuesday.

St. Louis, like much of middle America, suffered through an extensive period of dangerously hot, humid weather that began in late June. The city recorded 10 straight days of 100-degree weather before rain on Sunday ushered in cooler temperatures. Highs in most of Missouri this week are expected to be in the upper 80s and low 90s.

St. Louis Health Director Pam Walker said many of this year’s victims “suffer from a cognitive disability or mental illness. Some of them resisted offers of help.” Many of the victims either did not have air conditioning or didn’t have them plugged in or turned on.

Health officials have reached out to advocates for people with cognitive disabilities and the mentally ill, asking them to provide the names of at-risk clients so that case workers, friends, neighbors and relatives can check up on them when the weather gets hot.

“Go to their homes and make sure the air conditioner is on and is working properly,” Walker said. “It is important to be insistent. They must be in an air conditioned room, even if they don’t want to be.”

The heat wave has drawn comparisons to the summer of 1980, when the temperature in St. Louis topped 100 degrees on 18 days and was blamed for 153 deaths. Since then, air conditioners have become more common, better heat warning systems have been put into place, and improved public service efforts have helped reduce the number of heat deaths and illnesses, health officials said.

 

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