For three days in July 1995 a dangerous heatwave settled over Chicago killing more than 700 people in the city’s worst natural disaster.
More than 70 per cent of those who died were over the age of 65. Many didn’t have any where to go and many lived in high crime areas so they were too afraid to leave their homes or even open a window.
In what’s known as the “urban heat island effect,” brick buildings, asphalt parking lots and tar roofs trapped the warmth and radiated it outward causing temperatures to sore as high as 106 degrees for three days in a row. The high temperatures were made even worse by especially high humidity, which made it difficult to sweat and cool off.
In addition to the hot weather, residents of Chicago had to deal with power outages and low water pressure caused when residents in poorer areas turned on over 3 thousand fire hydrants in an effort to cool off.
Initially Mayor Richard Daly, shrugged off the heatwave and did not initiate the city’s heat emergency plan.
Finally on Saturday July 15, with the daytime high still at 99 degrees, the city opened cooling centres and police began going door-to-door to check on seniors. But it was too late.
At the Cook County Morgue, a cavalcade of police vehicles and ambulances delivered one corpse after another. Hospitals were also over run forcing 23 emergency rooms to shutdown.
On Sunday July 16, a cold front pushed the hot air mass away from Chicago and the heatwave finally broke but it was still 93 degrees and 9-1-1 calls continued to pour in. More and more bodies were discovered over the next several days.
In the end, over 700 people died in the 1995 Chicago heatwave. The majority of those who died were elderly people who lived alone in the predominately poor black communities of south side and west side Chicago.
To learn about more important events from the 90s check out my podcast History of the 90s available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at on the Curiouscast website.