BY SANDRA NELSON
CHICAGO - "This is a disaster like we've never seen in the city of Chicago," Cook County medical examiner Edmund Donoghue said of the heat wave that wreaked havoc on this lakeside city beginning July 12. Some 500 people died from the heat.
With record temperatures peaking at 106 degrees Fahrenheit, weather conditions combined to bring Chicago's heat index to 119. A steady procession of ambulances and police cruisers brought heat victims to the county morgue, filling it to capacity. Seven refrigerated semitrailers were brought in - but only to accommodate the dead. The elderly bore the brunt of the disaster.
"I went out to buy some fans and they had hiked the prices up way beyond our reach," commented Ethel Washington, a local resident.
Giant utility monopoly Commonwealth Edison, unprepared to supply adequate electricity as temperatures soared, left 41,000 North Side residents and thousands in the suburbs without power for up to three days. As they scrambled to maintain power in other areas, Edison managers resorted to "rolling blackouts."
Jim Flanagan, 77, a Wrigleyville neighborhood resident, expressed his frustration with the power allocation. "The restaurants in the area got lights. Wrigley Field [baseball stadium] has lights. It doesn't make sense people living there don't have lights," he said.
As the death toll mounted, people demanded to know why the city government hadn't followed its own emergency heat plan. Mayor Richard Daley suggested that the medical examiner may have exaggerated the number of heat-related deaths. "Every day people die of natural causes," he said. "You can't put everything as heat-related."
Cook County examiner Donoghue, in announcing the latest death toll July 19, contended, "All these people would have survived if not for the heat."
Department of Human Services commissioner Daniel Alvarez blamed the deaths squarely on the victims. "We are talking about people that die because they neglected themselves."
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