US cooler but heat death toll climbs

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The Independent Online

Associated Press

Chicago - More victims of a five-day heat wave were discovered yesterday, and the death toll of 256 was expected to climb even though temperatures in much of the United States have cooled.

"We suspect that throughout the week, people are going to find decomposing bodies," said Edmund Donoghue, medical examiner for the Chicago area, where more than half the confirmed casualties were reported.

The number of victims should, however, trail off now that temperatures have fallen below 32C (90F).

The morgue, already cramped for space and forced to store bodies outside in mobile refrigeration vans, added another van yesterday. Police vans and private hearses continued to arrive with new victims.

The scene outside the morgue was grim. Masked employees worked in the blazing sun to move freshly discovered victims, many in a state of severe decomposition, from the police wagons to the refrigeration vans. Workers said the stench in the examining rooms was powerful.

Mr Donoghue estimated that private funeral homes in the area had 336 bodies, many of whom also apparently were victims of the heat.

Deaths also were reported in Philadelphia, New York City and Washington DC. Among the 256 who have died was an 80-year-old Pennsylvania man who had been sealing his tar driveway in 33C heat.

The death toll topped that of 1987, when at least 96 deaths from the Plains to the East Coast were blamed on heat, but did not approach the estimated 1,500 fatalities from a 1980 heat wave.

But the worst of the stifling weather seems to be over. Chicago peaked at 33C on Sunday with temperatures dropping to the mid-20s yesterday.

Most of the Chicago victims were elderly, many of whom lived in homes with little or no cooling.