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Heat record broken; rain brings relief

DATE OF EVENT: Sunday, July 20, 1980

DATE PUBLISHED: Monday, July 21, 1980, in The Kansas City Times

Editor’s note: The 1980 heat wave, a record 17 days above 100 degrees, caused hundreds of deaths in the Kansas City metropolitan area and throughout the Midwest. Morgues ran out of room and body bags as the death toll climbed. Water supplies were scarce as well: By the middle of the heat wave, Grandview’s main water tower, which had a capacity of 1.5 million gallons, held a foot of water. In 1981, hoping to ward off future disasters, city officials would create the Heat Task Force, which is still in effect.

Temperature soared past 100 degrees for a record-breaking 17th day on Sunday and the number of heat-related deaths leaped again, making Kansas City the hardest-hit city in the nation.

There was some relief, however, when a series of thunderstorms passed through the area late Sunday, dropping temperatures to 77 degrees at 11 p.m. at Kansas City International Airport and causing scattered power failures. …

On Sunday, however, the high was 106 degrees in Kansas City, ending the third straight weekend of suffering. Twenty-three heat-related deaths were confirmed over the weekend, pushing Kansas City’s toll to 111. That put the city’s toll above the 109 deaths in St. Louis, which had been the nation’s hardest-hit city.

The total for Kansas City consists of 108 heat-related deaths confirmed by the Jackson County medical examiner and three heat-related deaths reported by the city Health Department.

The 17 days of temperatures over 100 degrees broke a record set from Aug. 12 through Aug. 27, 1938, when the city experienced 16 consecutive days of 100-plus temperatures.

The new record was set between 11 a.m. and noon Sunday, when the temperature at Downtown Airport rose from 99 degrees at 11 a.m. to 101 degrees at noon. By 2 p.m. the temperature had soared to 103 degrees. …

In Kansas City, people were staying inside. “There are hardly any people in the parks,” police Maj. James Campbell said after a helicopter tour of the city. “They’re just abandoned. There’s no one out there.”…

The death toll in the two-state region continued to climb; 275 heat-related deaths have been confirmed in Missouri, the most in any of the 20 states hit by the heat wave, and 64 deaths have been listed in Kansas.

Fifty-one National Guardsmen continued to help Red Cross and Salvation Army volunteers deliver fans to needy people in Kansas City. Since Saturday, guardsmen have helped the Red Cross and Salvation Army deliver more than 600 fans…

Almost 10,000 calls have been placed to Kansas City’s Heat Wave Command Post since July 12, and police officials announced a new number for deaf people seeking assistance.