Extreme Heat and Cold

Authored by: Sabrina McCormick

The Routledge Handbook of Hazards and Disaster Risk Reduction

Print publication date:  December  2011
Online publication date:  March  2012

Print ISBN: 9780415590655
eBook ISBN: 9780203844236
Adobe ISBN: 9781136918698


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Early July, 1993, Sara (not her real name) was found in her apartment, head down on the kitchen table. She had visited a local health clinic the day before, and the physician discovered she was dehydrated. By the time the ambulance attendants found her the next day, Sara was dead. As they loaded her body into the ambulance, dense, hot air wafted from her apartment door. The windows were shut and the temperature inside had reached 49°C. Even after lying in the ambulance for a twenty-minute ride back to the hospital, her body temperature was 42°C. Sara was forty-eight years old when she died. The next day, a sixty-five-year-old man named Jimmy was discovered decomposing in his apartment. His neighbours had seen him three days prior. Since then, the heat wave had permeated Philadelphia, and both the concrete and the residents had absorbed its toll. The official cause of Jimmy’s death was atherosclerotic heart disease, but heat was named as a contributing factor. Jimmy and Sara were not alone. One hundred and eighteen people died that month due directly or indirectly to a heat wave.

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