Worries about drowning come with heat in US

Published 6:18 am Sunday, July 8, 2012

ST. PAUL — As heat across a big chunk of the U.S. drives people into pools and lakes to cool off, public health officials are worried about a heightened risk of drowning.

Minnesota has had more drowning deaths so far this year than any time in the past decade, and officials in Illinois and Michigan are seeing an uptick in some areas, too. Drowning deaths historically go up in the summer months, but the intensely hot weather may also be putting even more people at risk as they flock to water for relief, some without swimming skills.

“When you’ve got more people out there, the chances of someone getting hurt or killed are increased just by the fact you’ve got numbers on the water,” said Kim Elverum, spokesman for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. “You’ve got ability and so on from one end of the scale to another out there.”

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Much of the central and eastern U.S. has experienced particularly hot weather in recent days, with temperatures climbing into the 100s in several cities. In the Midwest, even low temperatures have been setting record highs, meaning people aren’t able to get relief even overnight.

In Chicago, Reggie Banks wondered whether heat drove his 22-year-old nephew, a strong swimmer who played high school water polo, into Lake Michigan on the Fourth of July. Mahlik Harris’ body was pulled out of the water after he went missing while swimming in the lake, where he might have gotten a cramp that made it impossible for him to swim back to shore. An autopsy is pending.