Monday, December 28, 2015

Hypothermia in Gallup

That wintertime situation in Gallup is tragic. Alcoholic Native Americans roam near highway exits and liquor stores, bundled against the intense cold and walking so stiffly that I called them Morlochs (after the ponderous cannibals in H.G. Well's "The Time Machine"). Yet they never bundled enough, somehow. That frigid Colorado Plateau can kill anyone. A great uncle of mine died in the Flagstaff, Arizona rail yard in January, 1960. No one is safe in the Great, Wide Open:
GALLUP – Carl Smith found his son’s body in a cold, open field not far from the Route 66 saloon where the 24-year-old had gone to drink. He was wearing a pair of lace-up boots, jeans and a familiar gray jacket.

Carl Smith, 51, stands in the parking lot of a now-shuttered saloon in Gallup, where he says his son had been drinking before his death from exposure in October 2009 in a field across the highway. (Mary Hudetz/The Associated Press)

“He and I were like one,” said the 51-year-old social worker and recovering alcoholic. “When I found him, I knelt down and I said, ‘Son, I’m really sorry.'”

The death of Calvin Smith, a Navajo jeweler, in October 2009 was part of a familiar pattern in the high-desert city of 22,000 people, where alcoholism and frigid winter temperatures produce a high number of deaths each year.

Fourteen people succumbed to the cold between October 2014 and April, setting the city’s hypothermia death rate at 64 deaths for every 100,000 people last year, authorities said. The rate far outpaced the national average of about 0.5 hypothermia deaths per 100,000 people.

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