CHICAGO ( Associated Press) — Temperatures barely rose above 90 degrees Fahrenheit for a couple of days in Chicago. But the discovery of the bodies of three women in a residential building for the elderly this month prompted municipal authorities to seek answers to questions that were supposed to be addressed after a longer and more intense heat wave that left more than 700 dead last year. nearly three decades.
Now the city — and the country — is facing the reality that due to climate change, heat waves can hit just about anywhere, not just in the height of summer, and they don’t necessarily have to be long.
“Hotter, more dangerous heat waves are coming up earlier, in May…and the other thing is we’re getting older and more people are living alone,” said Eric Klinenberg, a New York University sociologist who wrote the book ” Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago,” about the 1995 heat wave. “It’s a formula for disaster.”
The Cook County coroner’s office has not determined the causes of death for the three women whose bodies were found May 14 at the James Sneider Apartments. However, the families of the victims have already filed or are planning to file negligence lawsuits against the companies that own and manage the apartments.
The council member whose district includes the neighborhood where the property is located said she experienced sweltering temperatures in the complex during a visit, including in one unit where heat sensors read 102 degrees F (38.8 degrees Celsius).
“These are elderly residents, with health problems (and) they should not be in these conditions,” Alderman Marí Hadden said in a video taken outside the apartments.
Part of the problem, experts say, is that communities nationwide continue to learn how deadly heat can be. It took the sight of refrigerated trucks full of corpses in the aftermath of the 1995 heat wave for it to be understood that the city was woefully unprepared for a silent and invisible disaster that caused more than twice as many deaths as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
Realizing that situation spawned a system in which city workers visit the elderly and frail and turned city buildings into 24-hour cooling centers when temperatures turn sweltering.
What happened this month is a reminder that the safeguards in place to ensure people don’t freeze to death because they didn’t pay their heating bills are often not in place to prevent people from experiencing extreme heat in their homes.
“We don’t have anything for air conditioning,” Hadden said.