Hundreds of deaths are being investigated in connection with this week’s record-breaking heat wave that engulfed western Canada and the U.S. Northwest, local officials say. Thousands more sought medical help and the death toll is expected to rise.
Most of the deaths were reported in British Columbia, where the chief coroner reported 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between Friday and Wednesday afternoon. This represents an increase of 195% over the 165 deaths that would normally occur during the same period.
Many of the deaths in B.C. were reported in Vancouver, Surrey, and Burnaby. In Vancouver alone, police reported 98 sudden deaths in which heat was believed to be a contributing factor in the cause of death. Two-thirds of the victims were over the age of 70.
“We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our hearts,” Vancouver Police Sgt. Steve Addison said.
Across the border, more than 1,900 people sought medical attention in connection with the heat wave in Washington and Oregon, according to incomplete data. Authorities reported 83 deaths, including 63 in Oregon and 23 in the state of Washington.
“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people,” Dr. Jennifer Vines, the health officer in Multnomah County, Oregon, said. The county, which includes the city of Portland, saw at least 45 heat-related deaths.
Vines said many of the victims, whose ages ranged from 44 to 97, had underlying health conditions which may have made them more vulnerable to extreme heat. “Many of those who died were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan,” she said.
The heat wave broke numerous all-time records across the region. Canada’s national record was broken three days in a row and reached 49.6°C (121.3°F) in Lytton, B.C. on Tuesday afternoon. The old record dates back to 1937, when the temperature reached 45°C (113°F).