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Surveillance of Deaths Attributed to a Nor'easter -- December 1992

During December 10-13, 1992, a severe weather system of snow, sleet, rain, and high winds struck Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, and West Virginia. The highest recorded winds from this winter storm, called a nor'easter, were 80 miles per hour (mph) gusts at Cape May, New Jersey, with sustained winds of 20-30 mph. The tidal surge was 1-4 feet above normal, and wave heights were 20-25 feet near the shore. The 24-hour snowfall was 27 inches in the hills west of Boston. Flooding was recorded at 4-5 feet in both Boston and New York City. In the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts, 4 feet of snow fell, with drifts as high as 10 feet. This report summarizes findings of surveillance for deaths associated with this storm and is based on information obtained from medical examiner (ME) offices.

To assess mortality associated with this storm, during December 10-13, CDC officials contacted ME offices in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island; Suffolk, Westchester, and Nassau counties in New York; and New York City (which includes Bronx, Kings, New York, Queens, and Richmond counties); and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. These offices were asked to report, retrospectively, any deaths occurring in their jurisdictions that they attributed to the storm. If deaths occurred, the office was asked to report demographic information about the decedent and the manner, cause, and circumstance of death. These jurisdictions have a combined population of 35,877,048 (Bureau of the Census, 1990).

MEs in this region attributed three deaths on December 11 and one on December 13 to the nor'easter. In Hudson County, New Jersey, a 38-year-old woman died from multiple blunt force injuries; she had been walking on a sidewalk when the roof of an apartment building blew off during high winds and crushed her. In Westchester County, New York, a 73-year-old man drowned on the premises of a country club in Mamaroneck (northeast of New York City on Long Island Sound) when, because of high winds, he lost his grip while holding on to a tree to escape rising flood waters. In Connecticut, a 40-year-old man drowned in the incoming tide. On December 13, a young female died in Rhode Island as a result of a snow storm; because death investigation records are not public in Rhode Island, additional details about this death are unavailable.

A possible storm-related death, reported by the Connecticut ME's office, is pending further investigation. No information was available from the Massachusetts ME's office.

Reported by: Offices of the medical examiner in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, and Rhode Island; Suffolk, Westchester, and Nassau counties and New York City, New York; and Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. Northeast Regional Climate Center, Ithaca, New York. Surveillance and Programs Br, Div of Environmental Hazards and Health Effects, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

Editorial Note

Editorial Note: Surveillance efforts using information from ME and coroner (ME/C) offices have provided timely information about deaths associated with natural disasters (1-6). Although the findings of mortality surveillance suggest that the public health impact of this storm was minimal, the media reported considerably more deaths than did the MEs. The discrepancy may be due, in part, to the lack of a widely accepted definition of weather-related deaths. Some ME/Cs define weather-related deaths as those resulting from environmental forces such as wind and rising water. However, other ME/Cs include deaths from circumstances such as motor-vehicle collisions and stress-induced cardiovascular events in their definition of weather-related deaths.

A standard definition for weather-related morbidity and mortality should assist health officials in assessing the public health impact associated with severe weather systems and other natural disasters. CDC is developing a definition for deaths related to natural disasters. Until this definition is available, CDC recommends that reports of disaster-related deaths either include selection criteria for disaster-related injuries and fatalities or cite the source of the case reports.

References

  1. CDC. Preliminary report: medical examiner reports of deaths associated with Hurricane Andrew -- Florida, August 1992. MMWR 1992;41:641-4.

  2. Philen RM, Combs DL, Miller L, et al. Hurricane Hugo-related deaths: South Carolina and Puerto Rico, 1989. Disasters 1992;16:53-

  3. CDC. Tornado disaster -- Illinois, 1990. MMWR 1991;40:33-6.

  4. CDC. Earthquake-associated deaths -- California. MMWR 1989;38:767-

  5. CDC. Medical examiner/coroner reports of deaths associated with Hurricane Hugo -- South Carolina. MMWR 1989;38:754,759-62.

  6. CDC. Deaths associated with Hurricane Hugo -- Puerto Rico. MMWR 1989;38:680-2.



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