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The hidden, human cost of heat waves

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Every year, natural disasters wreak havoc in the United States, producing dramatic scenes and billions of dollars in damages. But while major storms and earthquakes may garner more headlines and incur heavier financial losses, a less obvious weather phenomenon -- heat waves -- produce among the highest human costs of all such disasters.

Statistics gathered by the World Health Organization show that heat waves account for the two top deadliest weather-related disasters in the United States over the last decade -- and three of the top five.

While the financial damage from a heat wave may not be as high or as evident as that caused by a hurricane or earthquake, high temperatures do come at a cost. For instance, the WHO said government agencies spent $3.7 billion on a heat wave that struck pockets of the country in summer 1998.

Top 10 deadliest weather-related phenomena in U.S. from 1990-2000
Heat wave July 1995, Midwest 670 killed
Heat wave July 1999, Upper Midwest 257 killed
Spring storms March 1993, Gulf Coast 241 killed
Winter storm Jan. 1996, East Coast 120 killed
Heat wave July 1998, Arizona, Florida, Colorado 117 killed
Winter storm Dec. 1990, 20 states 79 killed
Cold wave Jan. 1994, Midwest, East 75 killed
Tornadoes March 1997, Midwest 70 killed (150 injured)
Hurricane Sept. 1999, Southeast 68 killed (11 injured)
Earthquake January 1994, Los Angeles 60 killed (8,500 injured)
Winter storm Dec. 2000, Southwest 57 killed (34 injured)
Source: World Health Organization -- International Disaster Database

Top five costliest weather-related phenomena in the U.S. from 1990-2000
Hurricane Sept. 1992, Hawaii $20 billion
Earthquake Jan. 1994, Los Angeles $20 billion
Flood July 1993, Ohio and Pennsylvania $12 billion
Storm May 1995, Lower Midwest $10 billion
Heat wave July 1998, Arizona, Florida, Colorado $3.7 billion
Source: World Health Organization -- International Disaster Database

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