Simultaneous heat waves, blackouts could overwhelm hospitals, study warns

Heat and multi-day blackouts don't go well together. In fact, they can be deadly, overwhelming hospitals with even millions of people suffering from heatstroke or other heat-related illnesses, according to a May 23 New York Times report.

In Phoenix alone, almost 800,000 people, about half of the city's population, could be affected by such a scenario and will need to seek emergency treatment. The city's ER capacity is 3,000 beds.

An estimated 12,800 people in Phoenix could die as a result, the report said, citing a recent study in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Other cities studied included Atlanta and Detroit. In Atlanta, about 3 percent of the population, approximately 11,600 people, would require emergency treatment if a five-day heat wave were to coincide with multiple power failure days, killing all the air conditioning, and six people would likely die.

In Detroit, an estimated 216 people would die under such a scenario.

David Hondula, PhD, one of the authors of the study and Phoenix's first director of heat response and mitigation, said putting hard data on such a threat was vital.

"This is the first time we have seen a number, and it's obviously quite an alarming number," Dr. Hondula said.

Mitigation strategies such as planting more trees to offer shade and the installation of specially designed cooling roofs could help reduce such deaths, the report said.

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