FORT MYERS, Fla. (AP) — Elderly people with limited mobility and people with chronic illnesses who require the use of electrical medical devices were especially vulnerable as Hurricane Ian slammed into Southwest Florida, and experts warn that the risk to of the oldest in society is increasing. disasters are increasing with the impact of climate change.

Almost all of the dozens of people killed by Yan in the worst-hit Lee County were 50 or older, with many in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. This highlights the increasing dangers for those least able to avoid such disasters and those most likely to suffer the consequences.

Climate change is making hurricanes wetter and more powerful, but they are also increasing the frequency of heat waves like those that scorched the Pacific Northwest the past two summers, killing scores of people, mostly the elderly. Drought-fueled wildfires have also increased, such as the inferno that burned the California town of Paradise in 2018, killing 85 people, mostly elderly people.

“It is not surprising that physically weak, socially isolated people most often die in these events. But it is politically significant,” said New York University sociology professor Eric Klinenberg. “If we know people are at risk, why aren’t we doing more to help them?”

Klinenberg, who wrote the book “Heat Wave: A Social Exposition of the Chicago Disaster” about the extreme heat that killed more than 700 mostly elderly and black people in July 1991, called Ian just a preview.

“We saw it in Chicago, during (Hurricane) Katrina, (Superstorm) Sandy, and we’re going to see more and more of it as the globe gets hotter,” he said.

Florida, in particular, will feel the increased impact of climate disasters, being in the path of many Atlantic storms and with a large share of retirees attracted by the warm weather, extensive coastline and relatively cheap housing. About 29% of Lee County’s population is 65 years of age or older.

One of the most dramatic stories of Jan demonstrates the risks. Johnny Lauder’s 86-year-old mother, Karen Lauder, who uses a wheelchair, initially refused to evacuate. But when the water in her home began to rise almost over her head, she was unable to escape and her son had to come to her rescue in a test he documented.

The extreme danger some face when they lose power was especially clear in Lee County, where an 89-year-old man died after the electricity needed for his oxygen went out and his backup generator failed.

Florida has tried to address some of these problems by creating shelters where people with medical conditions that require electricity for oxygen, dialysis and devices such as ventilators can pre-register to stay.

AARP Florida Director Jeff Johnson praised the special shelters, saying county emergency authorities have modernized and improved evacuation operations over the past two decades.

“There is room for improvement, but it would be wrong to say they are not doing anything,” he said.

Home networks that provide care and services for seniors, as well as neighborhood associations and faith-based communities, can also help by checking in on socially isolated seniors, Johnson said.

Several hurricane survivors sit in wheelchairs Thursday outside a special shelter set up at an elementary school in Fort Myers.

Merrill Bouchert, 60, stayed there because Yang destroyed his home and he needs electricity for the CPAP machine he uses for severe sleep apnea.

Bauchert said the nursing home houses dozens of residents, many of whom have mobility issues or depend on electrical medical devices to stay alive.

At first, large oxygen cylinders were used for people with breathing problems, but later they were replaced by mechanical oxygen generators for individual use, he said. Conditions improved with the water supply restored, but the first few days were difficult, Bowsher said.

Because many people are too weak to go outside and there is no indoor sanitation, going to the toilet involves putting a plastic bag in the toilet and sitting down, sometimes with help.

“You were actually doing your business in a garbage bag. Take a garbage bag, tie it in a knot, throw it in the trash and leave another bag for the next one,” he said.

Gov. Ron DeSantis acknowledged Iain’s disproportionate impact on the state’s elderly residents and the need for local groups to help them recover.

“It happened in areas where there are a lot of elderly residents, and I met a lot of people,” DeSantis said at a press conference Thursday. “So you are a man who is maybe 85 years old. You may not be able to do the same home repairs as you used to do when you were younger.”

While the death toll of over 100 people and property damage from Ian was catastrophic, Hurricane Katrina caused far more death and destruction in August 2005.

Researchers have concluded that nearly half of those killed by Katrina in Louisiana were 75 or older. A 2006 Senate Committee Report noted the failure of all levels of government to effectively evacuate thousands of elderly, sick and disabled people from New Orleans as neighbors fled the city in their cars.

The elderly are also at risk of heatstroke in the days and weeks following severe storms.

After Hurricane Ida hit Louisiana in 2021, of the nine New Orleanians who died from the heat and the 10 for whom the heat was the cause of death, only four – two in each group – were under the age of 60 , according to information from the Orleans Parish Coroner’s Office.

Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused particularly heavy losses. The storm’s immediate aftermath killed more than 90 people in the U.S., but researchers from the University of South Florida and Brown University found 433 additional residents in nursing homes in Florida died within 90 days of a storm compared to the same period in 2015, when there were no hurricanes.

The investigation was prompted by the heat-related deaths of 12 residents at a Broward County nursing home when a storm knocked out an air conditioner and staff failed to transfer them to another facility. The administrator and three nurses were later charged.

Klinenberg, a sociologist who has written about heat deaths in Chicago, said the fault lies in how society cares for its seniors, not just during disasters, but on a daily basis.

“We live in an aging society and in a sense we are victims of our own success,” he said. “Europe has the same problem. Also Japan and Korea. Thanks to medicine, people are living decades longer, but we don’t know how to take care of them.”


Snow is reported from Phoenix. Janet McConaughey in New Orleans reported.