Natural Disasters The London Killer Fog of 1952 Part 2

About the London Killer Fog of 1952 a perfect storm of fog, pollution, and smog that covered the city for several days and left a number of people sick and dying or dead.

NATURAL AND MAN-MADE DISASTERS

THE LONDON KILLER FOG

But it was not forgotten by the doctors and health authorities who witnessed hospitals swamped with people complaining of respiratory complaints. While the fog was still in full swing, many people experienced hacking coughs and violent nausea. Doctors discovered that many of their patients also had severe shortness of breath, and some of them even turned blue because of cyanosis, a condition caused when the blood does not receive enough oxygen.

Another indication that all was not well was the number of requests made to the Emergency Bed Service, an agency that locates hospital beds for the seriously ill. By Sunday, the third full day of the fog, four times the usual number of requests had been made. Also on Sunday, 15% of those asking for hospital beds had to be turned away. On Monday, 20% were unable to secure a bed because of the incredible number of illnesses.

Then people began dying. The first victims were the very young and the very old, especially those with heart disease or respiratory disorders. Many died suddenly, with no warning at all. There were few places to escape to. The thick, acidic fog flowed into London's drafty flats. Many elderly people who lived alone were killed and were not discovered until much later.

Once the fog dispersed, the sky brightened and temperature and humidity returned to normal seasonal levels. But people kept dying. An individual ill from the fog generally took from four to nine days to recover--if he or she recovered. Many didn't.

The grisly proof that many didn't was the booming profits cemeteries made during that fatal December. People queued up in long lines just to register deaths, and a 10-day wait before burial was common in most London cemeteries. The crematories worked to capacity, and some morgues even ran out of shrouds to cover the corpses.

Aftermath: Even now there is no completely accurate method of assessing the exact number of deaths by the killer fog. Authorities were able only to compare the normal number of deaths for a specific period of time with the number of deaths occurring during the fog. In the two weeks following the fog, more than 4,000 people died because of it. But many authorities believed that the fog's effects lasted far beyond two weeks. Some claimed that at least 8,000 deaths were directly due to the fog. There were also untold thousands who appeared to recover and then later died from complications of their illnesses.

It began to sink into the minds of official Britain that the fog had been truly a disaster. Labourite M.P. Lt. Col. Marcus Lipton stated: "It's almost on the scale of mass extermination." Health Minister Iain Macleod told the House of Commons that the problem was one of "greatest urgency." Several investigations were launched to discover if the fog was a once-in-a-lifetime freak or a harbinger of the future.

In some ways the fog did foretell the future. In 1956 and in 1962 serious fogs enveloped London and killed many people. The 1962 fog was particularly bad--as dirty as the 1952 fog, some claimed--but less than 1,000 died. This was owing to the Clean Air Act, which went into effect in 1956. The act gave local governments authority to declare emergencies. In 1962, pollution-producing factories were shut down. People were also better informed. Those most likely to suffer remained indoors, and those who did venture outside wore air filters.

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