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Pets, homeless vulnerable to effects of cold weather

January 07, 2004|by WANDA T. WILLIAMS

wandaw@herald-mail.com

Homeless people, household pets and household plumbing are vulnerable to the hazards of this week's cold wave if they aren't protected from the unusually harsh temperatures.

"We're feeling the effects of a cold air dome moving in with gusty winds and low wind chills," said Scott Homan, an AccuWeather meteorologist.

Homan said that from today through Saturday, the area can expect high temperatures in the 20s during the day, with temperatures dropping to the mid-teens overnight.

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"We won't see any relief until Sunday. That's when temperatures will get back to a normal 34 degrees for this time of the year," Homan said.

Local homeless shelters already were feeling the sting.

"We're already filled up to capacity," said Katy Costa-Sweeney, program assistant with REACH (Religious Effort to Assist and Care for the Homeless).

While area shelters offer assistance, some people still will fall through the cracks, Costa-Sweeney said, adding that some homeless people refuse to go inside no matter how low temperatures drop.

But residents can help save the homeless from the dangers of hypothermia.

"If you see someone outdoors, offer them a blanket or even a coat," Costa-Sweeney said.

REACH's cold weather shelter provides beds for up to 63 adults.

Protecting pets from the cold weather isn't nearly as complicated.

"Keep your pets away from wind drafts and make sure they get plenty of fresh water warmer than 30 degrees," Hagerstown veterinarian Dr. Ben Byers said.

"Chilled or frozen water will make a pet colder," said Byers, who also warned pet owners against using electric blankets and heat lamps to warm pets. It's more of a fire hazard than anything else, Byers said.

Frigid temperatures also can be tough on plumbing.

"We're waiting for the phone to ring off the hook," said Rick Sword, a service manager for Roto Rooter.

When temperatures drop below 32 degrees several days in a row, uninsulated pipes probably will freeze, Sword said.

Mobile home owners are especially at risk.

"Mobile home skirting around the bottom of the home is typically not insulated. This leaves water pipes exposed to cold temperatures," Sword said.

Sword recommends insulating pipes with heat tape, but cautions homeowners to contact a professional if they don't know how to install the tape safely.

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