A historic heatwave in western Canada and the United States Northwest has led to hundreds of deaths over the past week, AP reported on Friday.
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said 486 deaths had been reported in the Canadian province between June 25 and Wednesday – a period in which about 165 deaths would typically be documented by authorities.
“While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat-related, it is believed that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather,” LaPointe said in a statement.
The police in Vancouver said that 98 of the deaths had occurred in the city, where two-thirds of the victims were 70 or older. Many homes in the region, like in the Pacific Northwest, do not have air-conditioning, leaving residents vulnerable.
“Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly dozens of people are dying because of it,” Sergeant Steve Addison said. “Our officers are stretched thin, but we’re still doing everything we can to keep people safe.”
In Oregon, officials reported more than 60 deaths linked to the heatwave. The state’s largest county, Multnomah, which includes Portland, reported 45 of those deaths since last Friday when temperatures rose. The Multnomah County medical examiner cited hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the body to deal with heat, as the preliminary cause of death.
“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people,” Multnomah County Health Officer Dr Jennifer Vines said in a statement. “As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again.”
A record was set in Lytton, British Columbia, where the temperature reached 49.5 degrees Celsius this week, Bloomberg reported. The sizzling weather also led to wildfires in the town.
“Within about 15 minutes the whole town was engulfed in flame,” Mayor Polderman told the BBC. “People basically just grabbed their pets, grabbed their keys and got into their car and fled.”
Polderman also raised alarm, saying that “the whole town is on fire”, CBC News reported.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the situation caused by the heatwave was “unprecedented”. “Lives have been lost and the risk of wildfires is at a dangerously high level,” he added.
Meanwhile, United States President Joe Biden said climate change was driving “a dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought”, Reuters reported.
He also met governors from western states, along with Vice President Kamala Harris as a fierce wildfire raged in northern California.
In Washington state, at least 20 people have died due to the heat. Officials said the figures are likely to rise in the coming days.