November 23, 2012 – As the recovery from Hurricane Sandy continues, some homes in the hardest hit areas remain without heat. As winter approaches, the Health Department warns New Yorkers that prolonged time in apartments or homes without heat can cause hypothermia and exacerbate heart disease and other medical problems, especially for infants, the elderly, people with chronic diseases, and people with mental illness or substance abuse problems. People in these categories should consider relocating to heated temporary locations until their building services are restored. Additionally, the City is working with building owners in affected areas to ensure that utilities are restored as quickly as possible. The National Guard, under direction of the City, is going door-to-door to identify people in multi-unit buildings without basic services who may have medical needs, and medical and social service staff are following up with those in need and will be distributing blankets and electric blankets to people in the affected areas that remain in homes without heat. Owners and tenants can seek help from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) or the city Restoration Centers for housing vouchers and relocation assistance. The City also urges any building owner whose tenants remain without heat to sign up immediately for the City’s Rapid Repair Program to expedite restoration of building services. Residents can call 311 for a list of restoration centers and information on FEMA assistance.
“The weather is getting colder and winter is not far off,” said Health Commissioner Dr. Thomas Farley. “Living in cold buildings is not good for your health. If your building heat is not going to be restored very soon, look for another warm place to live until it is. And check on your family, friends and neighbors, especially those who are vulnerable, to see if they need help getting into warm place.”
People who remain in cold homes should wear layers of dry, loose-fitting clothing, cover their heads, hands and feet, consume hot food and drinks if available, but avoid alcohol. The Health Department advises people to never heat homes with a stove, portable gas heater, or barbeque grill, which can create deadly gases or start a fire.
The people at greatest health risk from prolonged exposure to the cold are the elderly, infants, and those with chronic health problems. Prolonged exposure to cold increases the risk of illness and death from a variety of causes, including:
- Hypothermia and cold and damp-exposure related worsening of respiratory and cardiovascular conditions.
- Stress-related exacerbation of chronic physical and mental health problems.
- Exposure to carbon monoxide, respiratory irritants, and fire risks among those using stoves for heat, generators for electricity, or candles for light.
Hypothermia, or very low body temperature is a life-threatening condition. It occurs when your body loses heat faster than it can produce it. Hypothermia can happen gradually and without the person realizing how serious it is.
The symptoms of hypothermia include: uncontrollable shivering, weakness, sleepiness, confusion, and lack of coordination. In infants, signs of hypothermia may include: cold, bright red skin, or very low energy. A body temperature below 95°F (35°C) is a medical emergency and 911 should be called immediately.
Warming Centers are open daily for these seeking a place to go for warmth, locations available at www.nyc.gov.