Depressing & interesting; the topic grabs me and feels important (always tricky to separate out the personal salience from the objective importance). The lede is really good:
On Thursday, July 13, 1995, a concentration of high pressure in the upper atmosphere above Midwest Chicago forced massive amounts of hot air to the ground, causing temperatures as high as 41°C (106°F). In a Midwestern city not built for tropical heat, roads buckled, cars broke down in the street, and schools closed their doors. On Friday, three Con Ed power transformers failed, leaving 49,000 people without electricity. In high-rise apartments with no air conditioning, temperatures hit 49°C (120°F) even with the windows open. The heat continued into Saturday. The human body can only take about 48 hours of uninterrupted heat like this before its defenses begin to shut down, and emergency rooms were so crowded they had to turn away heatstroke victims. Sunday was no better, and as the death toll rose—of dehydration, heat exhaustion, and renal failure—the morgues hit capacity, too, and bodies were stored in refrigerated meat-packing trucks. In all, 739 people died as a result of the heat wave.
In its aftermath, an inquiry found, unsurprisingly, that the majority of those who died were poor, old, and lived alone. More surprising was the gender imbalance: significantly more men died than women. This was especially strange considering that in Chicago in July of 1995, there were more old women who lived alone than old men.
What made these men more vulnerable than the women? It wasn’t physical circumstances. Both groups lived mostly in “single room occupancy” buildings, or SROs—apartments of one room in what used to be called flophouses. It was social circumstances. The phrase “No known relatives” appears repeatedly in police reports of the dead men’s homes. Letters of regret were found on floors and in backs of drawers: “I would like to see you if that’s possible, when you come to the city”; “It seems to me that our family should have gotten along.” The single rooms of the deceased are described as “roach infested” and “a complete mess,” indicating few or no visitors. The women, according to Eric Klinenberg, who wrote a book on the heat wave, had people who checked up on them and so kept them alive; the men did not. “When you have time please come visit me soon at my place,” read another letter, unsent.
What conditions lead to this kind of isolation? Why men?
(h/t Thing of Things)
[rereads: 1, edits: 0]