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Historic Northwest heat wave may have killed hundreds


Salem, Ore. Hundreds of deaths in Canada, Oregon and Washington could be caused by a historic heat wave that baked the Pacific Northwest and broke all-time temperature records in generally temperate cities.

British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa LaPointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between 1 p.m. Friday and Wednesday. In general, she said about 165 people would die in the province over a five-day period.

“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 reported deaths is due to extreme weather,” LaPointe said in a statement.

Like Seattle, many homes in Vancouver, British Columbia do not have air conditioning.

“Vancouver has never experienced heat like this, and sadly, dozens are dying from it,” said a Vancouver police sergeant. Steve Edison said in a statement.

Washington state officials had linked more than 20 deaths to the heat, but the number was likely to rise.

The heat wave caused what meteorologists described as a high pressure dome over the northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense. Seattle, Portland and several other cities broke all-time heat records, with temperatures reaching above 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 Celsius) in some places.

While temperatures in western Washington, Oregon and British Columbia had cooled significantly by Wednesday, interior regions were still sweating from triple-digit temperatures as the weather system moved east into the Intermountain West and plains.

Environment Canada issued a heat warning for southern Alberta and Saskatchewan on Wednesday. Heat warnings were also issued for parts of Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

In Alberta, “a long, dangerous and historic heat wave will persist through this week,” Environment Canada said.

Extremely high temperature or humidity increases the risk of heatstroke or heat exhaustion.

In a statement, Oregon’s Multnomah County Medical Examiner attributed 45 heat deaths to hyperthermia, an abnormally high body temperature caused by the body’s failure to deal with heat. The age of the victims ranged from 44 to 97.

Counties including Portland said that between 2017 and 2019, there were only 12 hyperthermia deaths across Oregon.

“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially for vulnerable people,” County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Wines said in a statement.

The King County Medical Examiner’s Office, which covers an area including Seattle, said at least 13 people died as a result of the heat. The age of the victims ranged from 61 to 97 years.

In eastern Washington, the Spokane Fire Department found two people dead in an apartment building on Wednesday with symptoms of heat-related stress, TV station KREM reported.

The heat prompted a power company in Spokane to impose a rolling blackout due to pressure on the electricity grid. Avista Utilities says it is trying to limit outages to one hour per customer.

Renee Sweker, 66, of Clayton, Washington, visited a Splashpad fountain in downtown Spokane’s Riverfront Park with her grandchildren on Wednesday and said they’re “going everywhere where there’s water.”

“I’m praying for rain every day,” Sweker said.

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Morris reported from Vancouver, British Columbia. Associated Press writer Nicholas K. Geranios contributed from Spokane, Washington.

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