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Editorial: As days of heat add up, danger to Chicago grows

Children play in a water fall at the Crown Fountain in Chicago's Millennium Park, seeking temporary relief to the Midwest's excessive heat on Thursday. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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If you and your neighbors all squeaked through Thursday with no serious harm from Chicago’s heat wave, stay tuned.

Experts warn that consecutive days of high temperatures carry a cumulative effect. The excessive heat warning that kicked off at noon Thursday continues through 7 p.m. Friday and city emergency officials are so worried about cumulative impact that they will be monitoring the situation closely through Monday.

Warned Rich Guidice, managing deputy director of operations for the Chicago Office of Emergency Management and Communications, “You think you’re okay today but heat exhaustion builds slowly.”

As the heat index soars to what could be as high as 110 degrees, now more than ever is the time to be a good neighbor.

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Public agencies are coordinating far better now than in 1995, when a heat index of 125 degrees choked the city, leaving more than 700 dead. Even so, extra eyes and ears are still needed.

Check on neighbors or relatives who are elderly, obese, who work outside in the heat or who are taking blood pressure or heart medication. Even some antihistamines can increase a person’s chances of heat exhaustion which, untreated, can lead to life-threatening heatstroke.

Encourage those susceptible to the effects of excessive heat to stay well hydrated. You might even bring them a six-pack of water.

Watch for: cool, moist skin with goose bumps, heavy sweating, faintness, dizziness, fatigue, low blood pressure upon standing, muscle cramps, nausea or headaches — all possible signs of heat exhaustion.

If friends or relatives are stifling without air conditioning, get them to a cooling center, or give them respite in your house if it’s cooler there. Call 311 to find the closest cooling center.

And check on the elderly regularly, more than once a day.

In a Chicago Magazine oral history of the 1995 heat crisis, one Lakeview woman recalled how she brought several fans to the home of a neighbor with a heart problem and no air conditioning after the neighbor brushed aside an invite to cool off at her house. By her next check, the following day, the elderly woman was lying on the bathroom floor, “already sort of blue.”

“It was devastating,” the neighbor recalled. “You think about it afterwards: If only I would have made her come over.”

Pitch in now. This is the time to act as a community. The city and your neighbors will appreciate it.

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