Thursday, September 08, 2005


Hillary Clinton has called for a "Katrina Commission." How come she never called for a commission to investigate why at least 1,000 Americans died in a 1995 heat wave when her husband was president?

The "Chicago heat wave" killed more people than Hurricane Andrew, TWA Flight 800, the Oklahoma City bombing and the Northridge, CA earthquake, combined.

Victims of the Chicago Heave Wave were buried in mass graves. (picture, Slate)

Hillary Clinton made sure she did the rounds of the morning network chat shows on Wednesday. She told ABC, CBS and NBC that "FEMA worked very well during the Clinton administration." And, criticizing FEMA director Michael Brown she said, "I would never have appointed such a person", a statement that sounds to me like it was the first salvo in the 2008 presidential election.

Curiously, Hillary Clinton did not point out what her husband and administration did to prevent widespread suffering as a result of the massive heat wave that struck the Midwest in 1995 and was particularly devastating to the city of Chicago.

For one terrible week in July 1995, daytime temperatures in Chicago soared above 100 degrees; even at night the mercury barely dipped below that. Public-health officials knew the prolonged heat would be deadly, especially for frail seniors, but they were stunned by the final death toll. Altogether, the heat wave killed more than 700 Chicagoans, more than double the number who died in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. As New York University sociologist Eric Klinenberg writes in Heat Wave, his remarkable book about the tragedy, "The proportional death toll ... in Chicago has no equal in the record of U.S. heat disasters."
-The American Prospect Online

Maybe Hillary feels that her husband is above blame because local and state officials are responsible for taking care of people during a widespread natural disaster.

During July 12-16, 1995, Chicago experienced unusually high maximum daily temperatures, ranging from 93 F to 104 F (33.9C to 40.0C). On July 13, the heat index* peaked at 119 F (48.3C) -- a record high for the city.
-CDC Report

However, a five day period of an unfolding natural disaster was not enough to merit any federal attention or direct help from President Clinton. Perhaps it is necessary for the federal government to step in the aftermath of a hurricane but not a widespread heat wave?

The [NOAA] report also recommends that emergency response organizations at the federal, state and local levels recognize severe heat waves as potential natural disasters, and that areas at risk should be prompted to develop emergency response plans for severe heat waves.
- NOAA press release

Okay, so there was a call for better federal help in the future when it comes to helping local authorities deal with heat waves. After all, it should very easy for the federal government, "the cavalry", to come in because there are no physical limitations in entering a stricken city. The city of Chicago was not flooded, buildings were not destroyed, bridges were not taken out, and trees were not blocking roads. How hard was it for Bill Clinton to make sure that FEMA was rushed to Chicago to prevent thousands of poor and urban residents from dying of heat stroke? That's a question that could have been answered by a "Heat Wave Commission."

It was no secret that Chicago was suffering. Eric Klinenberg wrote the definitive book on the disaster, "Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago." This is what he had to say in an interview with the University of Chicago Press:

On the first day of the heat wave, Thursday, July 13, the temperature hit 106 degrees, and the heat index - a combination of heat and humidity that measures the temperature a typical person would feel - rose above 120. For a week, the heat persisted, running between the 90s and low 100s...
The heat made the city's roads buckle. Train rails warped, causing long commuter and freight delays. City workers watered bridges to prevent them from locking when the plates expanded. Children riding in school buses became so dehydrated and nauseous that they had to be hosed down by the Fire Department. Hundreds of young people were hospitalized with heat-related illnesses. But the elderly, and especially the elderly who lived alone, were most vulnerable to the heat wave.

Where was the federal government, Hillary?

After about forty-eight hours of continuous exposure to heat, the body's defenses begin to fail. So by Friday, July 14, thousands of Chicagoans had developed severe heat-related illnesses. Paramedics couldn't keep up with emergency calls, and city hospitals were overwhelmed. Twenty-three hospitals - most on the South and Southwest Sides - went on bypass status, closing the doors of their emergency rooms to new patients. Some ambulance crews drove around the city for miles looking for an open bed.

Forty-eight hours?! Where was your husband, Hillary?

Hundreds of victims never made it to a hospital. The most overcrowded place in the city was the Cook County Medical Examiners Office, where police transported hundreds of bodies for autopsies. The morgue typically receives about 17 bodies a day and has a total of 222 bays. By Saturday - just three days into the heat wave - its capacity was exceeded by hundreds, and the county had to bring in a fleet of refrigerated trucks to store the bodies. Police officers had to wait as long as three hours for a worker to receive the body. It was gruesome and incredible for this to be happening in the middle of a modern American city.

In reaction to Katrina, the media asked, "how could this happen in an American city?" Curiously, none of them were so angered and full of shock and awe in 1995. By the way, Hillary, where was the cavalry?

The media was notified but the heat wave warning was met with a yawn:

Macko said that he was surprised that the ERRI warnings received very little attention from the national press, and that ERRI didn't receive any inquiries about the heat emergency, or the Institute's recommendations, until late Saturday. By then, he said that the heat emergency had turned into a "full blown disaster".

Klinenberg describes how the government of Chicago mayor Richard Daley was caught flat-footed by the growing crisis. Sound familiar?

Yet there is no question that the city government did not do everything it could to prevent the catastrophe. The city failed to implement its own heat emergency plan, waiting until Saturday, July 15, after hundreds of bodies had already been delivered to the county morgue, to declare an official emergency.
-University of Chicago Press

Curiously, the role of the federal government never came up in the University of Chicago Press's interview with Mr. Klinenberg. FEMA and Bill Clinton were never mentioned in the interview.

No one will every really know how many people died:

"Many of our patients died in the hospital several weeks later," said Dr. Jane Dematte of Michael Reese Hospital. "They would not have all been counted in the medical examiner's office."

A study in the August issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine went back to a dozen Chicago hospitals that treated the heat patients and looked more closely at the people who didn't become victims right away.

"Close to 50 percent who required admission to the hospital eventually died," Dematte said.

The study found of the patients, 21 percent died in the hospital, 28 percent within a year. An additional third remained disabled when they left the hospital. None were better a year later.

Perhaps most troubling: The study raised questions about whether some of the deaths and disabilities could have been prevented.

This Galvin Opinion article was not meant to assign any blame for the heat wave disaster. It was meant as a reminder of what can be hypocritical and selective outrage. If an elected politician or the media want to play a blame game then all natural disasters that resulted in hundreds or thousands of preventable deaths should be treated equally. If Hillary Clinton wants to shout from the rooftops and make demands for a "Katrina Commission" she should also demand a "Heat Wave Commission."

- courtesy Institute for the Study of Society and Environment (note discrepancy in Illinois totals from other published results)

A disproportionate number of black people died in the heat wave of 1995. Yet, no one ever said, "Bill Clinton doesn't care about black people."

Just one year after the 1995 Heat Wave, the Democratic party re-nominated President Bill Clinton in the city of... you guessed it... Chicago.

Here are other blogs dicussing Hurricane Katrina and relevant topics: Mud&Phud on Blanco's dithering, American Mind on how Red Cross was "Blanco blocked", Dean's World: Western socities only "four meals from anarachy", Diggers Realm on Katrina relief, Scrapple Face on Hillary's FEMA, Outside the Beltway on political issues slowing intervention, and .

Here are more:
Michael King on how Red Cross got blocked, Tiger Hawk, Blackfive on how Dems are trying to profit from Katrina, Argghhh has lots of info, GOP Bloggers, Prf. Bainbridge on Subsidiarity and Katrina, Q and O is wary of centralized disaster planning, Anchoress on the kindness of Texans, Moxie has donation ideas, LaShawn Barber on FEMA's Michael Brown, Michelle Malkin says Michael Brown is relieved of Katrina duty, Wizbang is happ that "idiot" Brown is gone, , Sondra says we're "horrible" and Rightwingnuthouse has a great take on current events.

Indepundit and CodePink are in a worthy battle for raise money for Katrina victims.

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The Galvin Opinion has written before about media hypocrisy and questions involving the Clinton administration...

- Failing the USS Cole, A Galvin Opinion Investigation: On September 22 2000, Osama bin Laden said he would attack U.S. ships, on October 12 2000 he struck the USS Cole

- The Galvin Opinion Calls for the "Osama bin Laden Commission": The 9/11 Commission was necessary but we should figure out how Al Qaeda became our most dangerous enemy during the Clinton Administration.


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