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Emanuel: Heat-Related Illness Forced North Avenue Beach Shutdown

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Mayor Rahm Emanuel

Mayor Rahm Emanuel discusses the decision to close North Avenue Beach on Memorial Day. (Credit: CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) – Was it fear of a violent flash mob, heat sickness, or just too many people?

The search for answers continues Tuesday morning about why North Avenue Beach was shut down on Memorial Day.

As CBS 2’s Susanna Song reports, Mayor Rahm Emanuel discussed the decision to close the beach. He said quite assuredly that the beach was closed Monday evening because of the tremendous number of paramedic calls received due to heat-related illnesses.

Emanuel said based on the reports he received Tuesday morning, and from what he heard, the situation was handled appropriately.

LISTEN: Newsradio 780 Political Editor Craig Dellimore Reports

“I think that they took the appropriate steps given what happened, and that’s that it was handled through an abundance of calls, which set up the right type of information,” Emanuel said. “The police, given the size of the crowd and given what the paramedics had to do, shut the beach down so the paramedics could do what they needed to do, which is apply the type of health care needs, and necessary to deal with the people that were showing the effects of both heat exhaustion, or other types of illnesses.”

The announcement about a safety-related closure came over the public-address system shortly after 6 p.m. firefighting crew sprayed crowds with a mist of water from a 2 1/2-inch hose as beach-goers made their way from the lakefront.

“They just started throwing us all off the beach — literally,” beachgoer Jennifer Epley said after police sent everyone home. “The cops were walking up and down, saying, ‘You need to get out of the water.’”

Several ambulances had been called to the beach about 5:30 p.m. after several people began feeling sick on the beach, Fire Media Affairs Director Larry Langford said. “They started falling down and were lightheaded,” he said.

In all, four people were rushed to area hospitals. One was even listed in critical condition.

The 18-year-old man was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital after being found unresponsive, Langford said.

There had been some speculation about what really happened.

Police sources have a different explanation. They said Tuesday that the beach was shut down in response to the large crowds of people showing up all at once, and police not having enough manpower to control the chaos.

Beachgoers at North Avenue have also faced the threat of violence from flash mobs and wilding on busy days in recent months.

Last month at North Avenue Beach, sources say a group of about 100 teens surrounded two people on bikes. Both were knocked off their bikes and thrown into Lake Michigan.

Mayor Emanuel said he did not know anything about the reported crowd control problem.

“One report is… was not what was shared with me, but what the steps are – and I think it’s important to remember this – you have a series of phone calls coming in from a single beach about heat, whether it’s heat exhaustion, or et cetera. It’s the first real hot day we had,” Emanuel said.

Emanuel said repeatedly that police made the appropriate professional judgment call to close the beach. He also said there was no specific protocol for how to handle such heat situations, and he would have to bring up the issue with police and the Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

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