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Police shut down North Ave. Beach after 8 suffer heat-related illnesses


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Updated: May 31, 2011 9:56AM

Memorial Day’s unseasonably hot weather turned dangerous early Monday evening, forcing the closure of North Avenue Beach and sending four beach-goers to hospitals, one a young man in critical condition.

Earlier, heat exhaustion interrupted a holiday celebration in far south suburban Lockport.

In Chicago, police closed North Avenue Beach about 6 p.m., shortly after ambulances were summoned there to treat eight people who fell sick on the crowded lakefront spot, many complaining of illness related to the heat, said Larry Langford, director of the Chicago Fire Department Media Affairs.

“They started falling down and were light headed,” he said.

Firefighters responded and treated four beach-goers at the scene before taking four others to area hospitals. One, an 18-year-old man, was “found unresponsive” and he was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in critical condition, Langford said.

It’s unclear whether he passed out as a result of the heat, Langford said.

Lifeguards stood on their elevated chairs, as an announcement came over the loudspeakers “North Avenue Beach is closed” and “Swimming is no longer allowed. Please exit the water” as Chicago police officers on foot and one on horseback moved through the crowds asking sunburned slowpokes to leave.

“We received several reports of people becoming ill on the beach and because of the crowded condition of the beach they’re clearing enough of the beach to allow emergency vehicles in and out,” said Chicago Police Officer Anne Dwyer.

By 7:30 p.m., the beach was empty – the only evidence of the earlier festivities overflowing trash receptacles along with water bottles and other debris strewn across the sand.

“We just got out here, I’m mad as hell,” said Ozie Owen, 18, of Aurora, as he watched beach-goers exiting the area about 7 p.m. “We took the Metra in [from Aurora] and a cab to the beach and we get here and the police are yelling at us to get out of here. I’m just trying to find my girlfriend now — she’s here somewhere – and we’re out of here.”

Jasmine Masghati, 24, of Addison said she and her friends had been at the beach since 2:30 p.m. and while it was wall-to-wall people she said it was fun and people were well-behaved when, suddenly, the lifeguard announced the beach was closing.

“We were going to do a barbecue here, but … we’ll go have a barbecue in Addison,” Masghati said.

Using a 2 ½-inch water line, firefighters created a mist in the area to cool people down, Langford said.

Temperatures in the area were recorded at about 88 degrees near the beach when eight people became ill about 5:30 p.m. It was unclear whether the eight — including the four taken to hospitals — were part of a group.

The arrival of emergency crews marked the end of what started as a festive holiday of swimming, sunbathing and people watching at North Avenue and neighboring Oak Street Beach.

Several beach-goers said they saw a few fights and lots of people were drinking more than water and Coke to cool off.

A bartender at Castaways, a bar and grill on North Avenue Beach, said she’d never seen the beach or the restaurant as busy as they were on Monday. She had to restock the bar six times; on her busiest day last year, she had to do it twice

Last year, the problems at start of the beach season involved warring gangs. This year, the sheer masses of people worried staff and security as crowds swelled and customers at the restaurant began to get impatient.

For some Lake Michigan, which measured a cool 53 degrees, provided some relief. But not for all.

“I’m melting,” said Alan Garber, 86, who wore a fishing hat to fight the sun while out for a stroll. “I’ve never seen this many people on the beach this early in the season,” said Garber, whose condo overlooks the water. “I don’t walk daily, only when there are beautiful bodies to be seen,” Garber said.

Chicago’s lakefront wasn’t the only hotspot to see health problems. Earlier in the day, six people suffered heat exhaustion at a Memorial Day event in Lockport.

Members of the Lockport Fire Department’s Honor Guard participating in the ceremony jumped into action after several people became ill from the heat.

“People just started dropping from heat-related exhaustion,” at the ceremony at Central Square — 222 E. 9th St. — about 10:30 a.m., said Lockport Fire Chief David Skoryi.

Members of the Fire Department’s Honor Guard were participating in the ceremony when they noticed people looking sick, Skoryi said.

“They just put the flags down and jumped right into helping them,” said Skoryi.

Some fainted, while some became ill, he said. In total, six people were treated at the scene, and four of them were taken to Silver Cross Hospital in Joliet for heat exhaustion.

That included a high-school student and three other adults, he said.

Contributing: Al Podgorski

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