Killer heat hits Korea, little relief this month

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Killer heat hits Korea, little relief this month

When Koreans start dropping from the heat, you know the climate’s getting hotter.

After a man and woman in their 70s apparently died from the sweltering weather this month, the Ministry of Health and Welfare started keeping records of summer heat fatalities.

The man did not have any health problems before he died last Monday in South Jeolla. The woman collapsed while working in a South Jeolla field on Aug. 1 and died in the hospital the following day. The temperature in South Jeolla hit highs of 34 degrees Celsius (93 degrees Fahrenheit) at the start of the month.

“We are considering announcing the number of heat fatalities on a weekly basis,” said an official at the Health Ministry, “to inform the public of the danger outside.”

According to ministry records, 24 people rushed to emergency rooms on Aug. 2 and 3 had no other health problems. Another 16 who went to the hospital had conditions that were made worse by the heat.

The Gyeonggi Provincial Fire and Disaster Headquarters said 66 ambulances were dispatched to help people who collapsed from the heat from June to this month, and 60 cases required treatment at hospitals. Emergency ambulances were dispatched for cases of dizziness, fainting or seizures.

“The ground is continuously heated from the lack of rain and the steady inflow of hot air from the region southwest of the peninsula,” explained Shin Gi-chang at the Korea Meteorological Administration. The KMA issued heat warnings yesterday for 130 regions nationwide. The only regions that are relatively cool are those located in mountainous terrain or coastal areas.

Heat warnings are issued when the daily high temperature rises above 33 degrees Celsius and the heat index surpasses 41 degrees. The heat index determines the temperature perceived by factoring humidity into the temperature.

The KMA said the heat wave started in the latter half of July, with average temperatures 0.8 degrees Celsius higher than temperatures during the same period last year. Tropical-type nights are happening more often than in the past, and Seoul has experienced eight this summer. Over the past decade, there was an average of 8.3 tropical-type nights per summer in the city. Other cities are experiencing the same phenomenon.

The National Institute of Environmental Research recently reported that when the average temperature in seven major cities rose from 27 degrees Celsius to 28, the overall number of deaths increased 2 percent, which comes to an additional 10 deaths a day. They based their conclusion on summer records from 1991 to 2007.

“When average temperatures rise above 26 degrees in the summer,” said Yu Seung-do of the institute, “elderly citizens and children should stay inside and pay more attention to their health.”

The weather is expected to cool down slightly as showers are expected on the peninsula this afternoon, said Shin. “But the heat is here to stay at least until early September.”

By Shin Sung-sik, Christine Kim []

Children cool off in a public fountain in Seoul’s Gwanghwamun Square yesterday as heat wave warnings were issued throughout the nation earlier that day telling people to guard against scorching temperatures. [YONHAP]

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