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Three deaths in St. Louis blamed on sweltering heat

Tuesday, August 14, 2007 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:19 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

ST. LOUIS — St. Louis officials on Monday blamed the deaths of three elderly residents on the heat wave that has settled over the region for two weeks, and Midwesterners braced for even hotter weather over the next few days.

Mayor Francis Slay’s office did not release names of the victims. An 81-year-old man was found Thursday in his home that had no air conditioning or fans. A 73-year-old woman died Friday even though the air conditioner in her home was running. And an 88-year-old man, also found Friday, had an air conditioner but wasn’t using it.

The deaths came despite an informational campaign that included more than 11,000 automated calls to give people at high risk information on how to cope with the heat. The city has also installed nearly 200 air conditioners and donated 125 fans since the heat wave began.

State health officials said a fourth death in Missouri was thought to be because of the heat — a 47-year-old Jackson County man. Three heat-related deaths have also been reported on the Illinois side of the St. Louis area.

Routine toxicology tests will be done in both cases to determine whether drugs or alcohol contributed to the deaths, authorities said.

Also last week, in East St. Louis, Ill., 87-year-old James Erby was found dead in a bed in his home, which also lacked air conditioning. Health experts say the elderly and chronically ill are most at risk during extremely hot weather.

The deaths were reported as forecasters are expecting triple-digit readings through Thursday. Today’s high in St. Louis is forecast at 105 degrees, which would top the record of 102 set in 1936. Wednesday’s high is expected to reach 102 degrees, and Thursday’s a still sultry 97 degrees.

After that — finally — a break. National Weather Service meteorologist Joe Pedigo said cooler, wetter weather should arrive by the weekend and continue into next week with highs in the range of 85 to 90 degrees.

Still, the rest of this week was concerning. The utility company AmerenUE on Monday brought in crews from outside of St. Louis to help restore power — and air conditioning — after an overnight storm that at one point left 63,000 customers without electricity, most of them on the Missouri side of the St. Louis area. By Monday afternoon, more than 12,000 were still without power.

The storm brought rain, high winds and lightning to much of eastern Missouri. Areas around Mark Twain Lake in northeast Missouri received more than 2 inches of rain, and some roads were closed in the Hannibal area as winds knocked down trees and power lines. The roof was damaged at a car dealership in St. Charles County, and lightning damaged a home there.

A St. Louis County woman was hurt when she was struck by a falling branch. Sharon Cohen, 62, of St. John, was in critical condition.


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