Each day, more deaths are being linked to the heatwave that struck the Pacific Northwest this past week, with medical staff who treated people overwhelmed by high temperatures saying the toll from the extreme weather will keep creeping up, having already surpassed 800.
Hundreds of deaths were being investigated as heat-related in the US states of Oregon and Washington, and in the Canadian province of British Columbia. The unprecedented heatwave began on June 25 and ravaged the continent’s northwest before slowly subsiding.
Canada is so far the worst hit of the two nations in terms of the number of fatalities. The heatwave there has claimed as many as 700 lives over the last one week alone, according to officials. Two people were reported to have died due to a raging wildfire triggered by the heat in the village of Lytton in British Columbia, which had sizzled under a record high temperature of 49.6°C earlier in the week.
It has been reported that one of well more than 100 wildfires peppering the heatwave-hit western part of Canada, especially British Columbia, has decimated about 90% of Lytton.
Numbers could go up
British Columbia’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe told reporters that 719 sudden deaths were recorded in the province in the week ending July 1 – which is three times higher than the average tally. The high temperatures are believed to be a significant contributing factor in the jump, and the number is expected to increase as more information is compiled, Lapointe said.
The escalating crisis sent Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into an emergency huddle with the country’s incident response group as they discussed ways to combat it, focusing largely on British Columbia.
Across the border, the US state of Washington’s authorities have linked about 30 deaths to the heat, with more reports coming in each day this week.
Nearly 100 die in Oregon
The death toll in Oregon alone has reached 95, the state medical examiner said on Friday, with most occurring in Multnomah county, which encompasses the hard-hit city of Portland. The deaths include a Guatemalan immigrant who collapsed as he worked at a nursery in an Oregon town amid the heat.
“I think, over time, we will understand that the numbers are only going to climb,” feared Steve Mitchell, director of Harborview Medical Center’s emergency medicine department in Seattle. “I know, in my experience, that I’m expecting to see much larger numbers than what we are currently able to report because of talking to colleagues who were experiencing twice as many calls for help that day.”
There were 1,792 emergency room visits for suspected heat-related illness since June 25, the Washington state department of health said on Thursday. Of those visits, 21% required people to be admitted to the hospital.
Monday had the most emergency room visits, with 702, the health department said. It was the hottest day of the heat wave in many areas, with Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and other cities smashing all-time heat records. It reached 42°C in Seattle, and 47°C in Oregon’s largest city.
Over 170 wildfires rage
In Canada, the military was on standby to evacuate towns and fight over 170 wildfires fuelled by the heatwave and tinder-dry conditions as the government in Ottawa warned of a “long and challenging summer” ahead. At least 177 fires were active in the western province of British Columbia, 76 of them sparked in the last two days, officials said.