Fatalities, hospital visits mount amid record Northwest heat wave
Carlos Ramos hands out bottles of water and sack lunches, Monday, June 28, 2021, as he works at a hydration station in front of the Union Gospel Mission in Seattle. Seattle and other cities broke all-time heat records over the weekend, with temperatures soaring well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.8 Celsius). (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
The heat wave that permeated the Pacific Northwest and British Colombia over the weekend and early this week has not only been record-breaking in its intensity, but it has also turned deadly, authorities said.
Dozens of fatalities in Washington and Oregon may be tied to the extreme heat, The Associated Press reported. Seventy-nine individuals died in Oregon due to the excessive heat, the AP reported, citing the Oregon state medical examiner.
Most of the deaths in Oregon occurred in Multnomah County, where Portland is located. The mercury soared to 116 degrees on Monday, an all-time record for the city.
The medical examiner for Multnomah County said the cause of the fatalities was hyperthermia and victims were between the ages of 44 and 97. Many had underlying health conditions.
"Many of those who died were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan," the medical examiner's office said, adding, "For comparison, for all of Oregon between 2017 and 2019, there were only 12 deaths from hyperthermia."
Authorities in Washington state say over 20 deaths have been heat-related. Snohomish County reported that three men between the ages of 51 and 77 died after experiencing heatstroke in their homes, according to the AP.
"Heat is a major threat from a safety perspective," AccuWeather Chief Meteorologist Jonathan Porter said. "In fact, it's the number one reason that people lose their lives" due to weather impacts each year.
AccuWeather Founder and CEO Dr. Joel N. Myers said he expects the death toll from the heat wave in Western Canada and the northwestern U.S. to run into the thousands.
"Some of the deaths from heat and sunstroke that will show up are obvious as a result of people going to the ER," Myers said. "Other people, unfortunately, will die at home and others will die of complications from other diseases." He added that "the extraordinary heat causing dehydration and organ failure combined with the lack of air conditioning in much of these areas" will be magnified by how atypical this heat wave was.
"Ultimately," Myers concluded, "when the calculation of normal death toll is compared to the actual death toll over the past few weeks, we will see that the death toll from this heat wave will be many multiples of the current reported fatalities."
Temperatures in the region soared into the triple digits and beyond, including three consecutive days of record-breakers in Portland, Oregon.
Beginning Friday, Seattle had consecutive record-breaking, triple-digit temperatures through Monday. The temperature peaked at 108 degrees Fahrenheit Monday, setting a new all-time high for the city. The normal high there for this time of year is 74 degrees.
Hospital visits also ballooned during the heat wave. In Washington, 676 people visited emergency departments with heat-related symptoms Friday through Saturday, according to CNN. Cory Portner, a spokesperson for the Washington State Department of Health, said 81 of those visits became inpatient admissions.
People walk near Pike Place Market, Tuesday, June 29, 2021, in Seattle. The unprecedented northwestern U.S. heat wave that slammed Seattle and Portland, Oregon, moved inland Tuesday — prompting an electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to resume rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
King County, which includes Seattle, recorded 91 emergency department visits for heat-related illness on Sunday and 40 on Saturday.
"Over the last three years, previous maximum single-day count of [emergency department] admissions for heat-related illness was nine," Gabriel Spitzer, communications specialist for Public Health Seattle & King County, told CNN.
The extreme heat is also challenging infrastructure in the region. Interstate 5 in Washington, among other roadways, buckled amid the heat wave. Buckling was a common sight on roadways and caused traffic delays, and transportation authorities blamed the buckling on the extreme heat.
And in Portland, the heat melted streetcar cables.
In Bend, Oregon, Mayor Sally Russell released a statement on Tuesday declaring a local state of emergency following multiple heat-related deaths at a homeless camp.
"The death of these community members is tragic. Losing them reminds us of the inequities that still exist in our society, and that our systems must do more to address housing accessibility, family violence, trauma experienced by veterans, mental health and addiction disorders, and all of the other root causes that lead to our neighbors living on the streets," the statement read. "No one should die on the streets of Bend."
Data from the Oregon Health Authority shows hospitalizations from heat-related illnesses have skyrocketed throughout the state to more than 450 cases between Friday and Monday.
A grim scene was beginning to emerge in Canada as well, which also saw a stretch of record-breaking weather, culminating on Tuesday with another national record high temperature of 121 degrees in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada's government weather service reported on Twitter.
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia's chief coroner, said 486 reports of "sudden and unexpected" deaths came in between last Friday and this Wednesday, which is well ahead of the 165 deaths the province normally sees in five days, according to the AP.
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