Killer heat claims at least 18 in region, probably more

Posted: July 26, 2011

The death toll from one of the region's most-intense hot spells in the 138-year period of record has reached at least 18.

And that's probably a substantial undercount, in the view of one heat-mortality expert.

The Health Department added eight additional heat-related deaths to the list today, bringing the Philadelphia total to 15.

Three others were reported in neighboring counties as a result of the fifth, longest and most-oppressive heat wave of the season.

"You had a super bad air mass," said Laurence Kalkstein, a research professor at the University of Miami who helped Philadelphia develop its acclaimed hot-weather warning system.

"Those numbers of deaths are really grossly underestimated," he said. It's not that the Medical Examiner's Office is doing anything wrong, he said, it's just that it's impossible to get to all the bodies. The real numbers, he added, may not be available until the mortality data becomes available in a year or two.

On Monday, the Health Department reported seven heat-related deaths verified on Saturday. An eighth victim, a 53-year-old man found the northwestern part of the city, was added to the list today.

In addition, the bodies of three more men and four women were discovered on Sunday, said Health Department spokesman Jeff Moran.

They ranged in age from 58 to 88. Seven of the victims had background heart conditions, and the 58-year-old an "unspecified mental illness."

On Friday, the peak of the heat wave, the official high temperature in Philadelphia reached 103, and it felt like 119.

The hot weather was a factor in the deaths of two men, one 55 to 60 years old, and the other, 60, who were found during the weekend in Montgomery County, said county Coroner Dr. Walter I. Hofman. Hofman declined to where they were fond.

In New Jersey, the Burlington County Medical Examiner's Office said heat contributed to the death of Perry Scutchings, 53, of Burlington City, whose body was discovered in his house about 8:30 p.m. Saturday by his girlfriend.

Yet another heat wave is due to start Thursday with uncomfortable conditions Friday, however it is not expected to match last week's ferocity, Kalkstein said.

Already, this has become the deadliest hot-weather season in Philadelphia since 2008, when heat was blamed for 26 deaths.

Hot weather was blamed for three other heat-related deaths occurred in the city before the most recent heat wave.

Philadelphia has gained an international reputation for its response to extreme heat, and it has been credited with holding down fatalities.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has hailed Philadelphia's heat-alert program, which includes activating a heat line and mobilizing block captains to look in on the elderly, as a "national model."

Inquirer staff writer Darran Simon contributed to this article.

Contact Anthony R. Wood at 610-761-8423 or

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