Chicago Offers Help to Beat the Heat

With much of the Midwest in the grips of an intense heat wave, Chicago officials are offering heat aid to vulnerable populations. Temperatures near the triple digits could threaten the elderly and the very young.

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DON GONYEA, host:

The summer heat wave, which scorched California and left more than 160 people dead, is now in the Midwest. There could be some relief by tomorrow, though forecasters are predicting the stifling conditions will next move to the Northeast. Chicago has been suffering through some of the highest temperatures of the season.

NPR's Cheryl Corley reports.

CHERYL CORLEY reporting:

The temperature was in the 90s, with a heat index of 107 degrees, as city workers Denise Robins and Angela Bender conducted a home check-in on an elderly Chicago resident.

Unidentified Woman #1: Hello? Miss Danzie(ph)?

(Soundbite of knocking on a door)

CORLEY: Worried neighbors had asked the city's Department of Human Services to check up on Jo-Pearl(ph) Danzie. She'll be 90 years old in a few weeks, and until her son came back to stay with her, there had been no one answering the door.

Danzie sat propped up on a hospital bed in her bedroom, a bowl on spaghetti on her lap. A small window air conditioner blew a stream of cool air.

Ms. JO-PEARL DANZIE (Chicago Resident): Hi.

Unidentified Woman #2: How you doin'? We come to see you and check on you in the heat.

CORLEY: After writing questions for Danzie because her hearing aid was broken, Robbins and Bender gave her some cold bottles of water, a box of food, and promised to get her Home Health Care service back on track.

Ms. DANZIE: All right, bye bye. Thank you for coming.

CORLEY: Danzie's next-door neighbor, Bob Hurn(ph), had called the city.

Mr. BOB HURN (Next-Door Neighbor): Living next door, I noticed that the big air conditioner didn't work, and I didn't know if she had air in the home or not. So, we saw this on TV, and we thought we'd call to see if someone could come out and take a check - a wellness check - on her.

CORLEY: The check-ins are part of a system the city put in place after a heat wave killed 700 people in 1995. There have been far fewer deaths across the Midwest attributed to this year's hot temperatures, but Dr. Terry Mason, the head of Chicago's Public Health Department, says diligence is crucial.

Dr. TERRY MASON (Chicago Public Health Department Head): What we learned from 1995 is that there is a bit of a lag time between the time we start seeing the heat rise and we start seeing people with heat-related illnesses. And that's why, if we were to have more heat over the next three days, this is when we expect to see more of a peak in those kinds of problems.

CORLEY: Other cities in the Midwest are taking similar steps to battle the heat. Wisconsin authorities are putting high priority on responding to calls about disabled cars so no one has to wait in the heat for long. For those with outside jobs, the weather can be particularly dangerous. In South Dakota yesterday, Larry Rosebesk(ph) and Wade Lynn(ph) were taking a break from fighting fires in the Black Hills in 100 degree weather.

Unidentified Man #1: It's hot. It's grueling. But you gotta do it. It's what we're here for, so…

Unidentified Man #2: Drink a lot of water.

Unidentified Man #1: Drink a lot of fluids, because you're going to sweat a lot of fluids out.

Mr. LYNDALE CROUCH(ph) (Chicago Resident): Ice cold water. Ice cold water today.

CORLEY: In Chicago, Lyndale Crouch was selling cold bottles of water to motorists from an extra-large cooler. He was raising money for his church.

Mr. CROUCH: We got three or four bags of ice in there. We got an extra-large cooler. We got about seven, eight, nine cases of water out here, and the water's going pretty fast. And we're just out here trying to help the public stay cool.

CORLEY: In the meantime, utilities expect to set records for power usage as those with air conditioners crank them up to colder temperatures to escape the withering heat.

Cheryl Corley, NPR News, Chicago.

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