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“It’s been killing us”: Heat deaths spike as summers intensify

LAS VEGAS REVIEW JOURNAL – Police had already gathered by the time Denise Lopez entered the empty cul-de-sac in downtown Las Vegas.

A woman, overtaken by the heat, lay dead in the cracked and littered street. Someone had draped cardboard over her.

Officers asked if Lopez could identify the decomposing corpse, she said.

“She was a friend of mine, and it didn’t look like her. I couldn’t do it,” said Lopez, 41, who has been homeless since she moved to the city 13 years ago. Tears filled her eyes as she recalled the scene from the shade under a U.S. Highway 95 overpass, only a block away from where it happened.

Since Lopez’s friend died in May 2020, the Southern Nevada heat has only grown deadlier.

“Nights with lows under 80 degrees numbered only 27 last summer, providing little respite during even the coolest hours. In the 1990s, most years recorded more than 60 such nights.”

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Heat-related deaths nearly doubled in 2021, totaling 245 people, according to the Clark County coroner’s office. Annual deaths among residents and visitors also surged in the last decade, increasing more than fivefold, a Review-Journal analysis found.

The situation is alarming, experts say, as summers grow hotter.

It’s “a reflection of the fact that we just do not have a handle yet on how to deal with this threat,” said Rachel Licker, a principal climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Heat exposure can kill someone outright or can aggravate other health problems until they become fatal. The coroner’s office includes both in its tally of heat-related deaths.

Most of the deaths in the past decade were among people older than 50, many of whom had underlying health conditions like heart disease, coroner data shows.

“Heat-related deaths outpaced the county’s car fatalities last year.” 

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Substance abuse, which can hinder the body’s ability to cool down, is also a concern. Methamphetamine played a role in more than one-third of deaths last year … READ MORE. 

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