The death toll of the Pacific Northwest’s catastrophic heatwave is rising as fast as its temperatures.
Oregon is reporting that at least 63 people died over the weekend of heat-related illnesses, but the state’s death toll will likely rise, as the findings are only preliminary. In Multnomah County alone, home to Portland, 45 people—17 women and 27 men ages 44 to 97 (one person’s gender was not specified)—died of hyperthermia over the past five days. By contrast, only 12 people died of hyperthermia in all of Oregon between 2017 and 2019, according to the county medical examiner. Portland’s airport recorded a temperature of 112 degrees Monday, breaking the record of 108, which was set the day before.
Many of those who died were found in homes without air conditioning or even a fan. Two adult dogs also died.
In a press release that painted a dire picture, Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines said, “This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heatwave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people… As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again.”
The county recorded its highest-ever volume of medical emergency 911 calls on Monday, with 491 calls, a 63 percent increase. Likewise, 131 people visited the hospital or an urgent care facility for relief from a heat-related illness over the weekend. In a normal weekend stretch, hospitals would see just one such case, Vines said. Hospitals across the county reported a five-fold increase in cardiac arrests.
Coroners in Washington have yet to publish a final death toll, but at least two people died from the heat in King County, home to Seattle, according to the medical examiner there.
In Canada, the village of Lytton saw scorching temperatures that shattered the entire country’s records two days in a row.
On Wednesday, the town’s mayor Jan Polderman issued an alarming order for all 250 residents to evacuate: “It’s dire. The whole town is on fire. It took, like, a whole 15 minutes from the first sign of smoke to all of a sudden there being fire everywhere.”
Authorities reported a massive increase in deaths in British Columbia. The B.C. Coroners Service recorded at least 233 deaths over the weekend. Vancouver police have received 65 reports of sudden deaths since Friday.
B.C. Chief Coroner Lisa Lapointe told CNN, “Since the onset of the heat wave late last week, the B.C. Coroners Service has experienced a significant increase in deaths reported where it is suspected that extreme heat has been contributory.”
Climate scientists predict that such unprecedented heatwaves will not remain extraordinary for long. Increased cyclonic activity over oceans, caused by climate change warming the water’s temperatures, leads to more high-pressure systems along the coasts, as is currently happening near the Pacific Northwest.