City, agencies hit the streets to help residents beat the heat
Officials, volunteers supplied water, ice, meals to vulnerable populations
LTC Ted Braiterman (foreground) and Capt. John R. Cory of the Maryland Defense Force carry ice to residents in Northwest Baltimore. (Kim Hairston, Baltimore Sun / July 7, 2012)
Baltimore's high temperature was 104 degrees Saturday — the highest on record for the date — and the state confirmed that its 10th heat-related death of the season had taken place a day earlier. Streets were empty, and most of those who lost electricity in a powerful storm last weekend were back online.
Still, officials warned that there were many people at risk, especially the elderly and the few who remained without power.
In Baltimore, agencies from across the state teamed up for a city-sponsored outreach effort that deployed teams throughout North Baltimore, targeting homes occupied by seniors and children, in areas of the city that still had pockets of residents who hadn't had power for a week.
It was the first large-scale volunteer effort in recent memory that the city had ever orchestrated after a natural disaster, officials said, as they bustled around the Northern Community Action Center on York Road, assigning teams and gathering ice, ready-to-eat meals, water and information.
A statewide call went out late Friday night for volunteers, and at least 50 from a half-dozen organizations had shown up Saturday morning.
"We're kind of making it up as we go along," said Kevin Cleary, deputy director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods, with a chuckle. "But, what we do know is that we have two compounded disasters, the heat and the outages, and even if residents have power, they're going to be dealing with this for weeks."
Saturday was the 10th straight day on which the Baltimore region has endured highs of 90 degrees or above — and the temperatures exceeded the record daily high of 101 degrees, recorded at Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport on July 7, 2010.
The region has seen short stints of high temperatures, but the last week has far surpassed that, weather officials said. But officials said that people should expect to see reoccurrences of this pattern, at least until mid-September.
"This is the longest stretch we've had of continuous, over 90-degree and near 100-degree temperatures so far this year," said Greg Schoor, meteorologist at the National Weather Service. "It's bad — it's not good for vegetation; it's not good for people."
State health officials have confirmed 10 heat-related deaths since Monday, four of them elderly Baltimore men, in addition to two Baltimore County men, both of whom died Friday. Three people also died during the storm.
The heat streak came on the heels of a powerful derecho June 29, which brought near-hurricane winds and left more than 700,000 without electricity, a number that was reduced slowly throughout the week to about 7,000 on Saturday evening.
Led by the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods and Office of Emergency Management, dozens of volunteers from crisis teams like the Maryland Defense Force and the American Red Cross descended on city neighborhoods to provide relief to residents.
Organizations said that a heat-related response was also a new, but necessary, endeavor.
Col. James Coleman of the Maryland Defense Force, a volunteer, uniformed state military agency that supplements a range of services to armed forces and communities, said that the venture was different from responses to Hurricane Katrina and the earthquake in Towson. The force also helps run the city-hosted Sailabration event.
"This is different because we're not out there as engineers, not as doctors," Coleman said. "We're out there as citizens helping citizens."
While several homes on the team's route had power restored in the past 24 hours, residents who encountered the Northwest Baltimore team, mostly composed of Defense Force members, still felt an enormous sense of gratitude as they prepared to cool homes and restock refrigerators.
"I just thank God for you guys," Janie Brown, an elderly Park Heights resident who needed bags of ice because the grocery stores in the area ran out days ago, said to the team that deployed to Northwest Baltimore. "God sends what you need right on time."
Lawanda Gaskins, whose home contained more than 10 children, including a 5-month-old, who went without electricity for four days, said the effort showed a different side of the city.
"People think Baltimore doesn't do good things with their money, but this shows different, and it was really a blessing," Gaskins said.
Gussener "Gus" Augustus, director of the city's Office of Neighborhoods, said that he believed the city had fulfilled its mission, and anticipates that the mayor will order similar outreach efforts in the future.
"I believe it was a success," Augustus said. "I believe we saved lives today."
An earlier version of this article misstated Saturday's high temperature. It was 104 degrees. The Sun regrets the error.