Hundreds of deaths have likely been caused by the heatwave moving across Canada and the US northwest, authorities say.
The chief coroner of the Canadian province of British Columbia said her office received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths” between Friday and Wednesday afternoon.
Lisa Lapointe said about 165 people normally would die in the province over a five-day period, adding that many of the most recent deaths could be heat related. Health officials said more than 60 deaths in Oregon in the US have been tied to the heat, and at least 20 in Washington state.
The heatwave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more extreme.
It has seen all-time high temperatures smashed in western Canada and the US northwest and left officials bracing for possible wildfires.
The worst of the heat had passed by Wednesday, but the US state of Oregon reported 63 deaths linked to the heatwave.
Multnomah County, which includes Portland, reported 45 of those deaths since Friday, with the county medical examiner citing hyperthermia as the preliminary cause. By comparison all of Oregon had only 12 deaths from hyperthermia from 2017 to 2019.
Across the state, hospitals reported a surge of hundreds of visits in recent days due to heat-related illness.
“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be,” 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.”
The heat dome, a weather phenomenon trapping heat and blocking other weather systems from moving in, weakened as it moved east, but was still intense enough to set records from Alberta to Manitoba, said David Phillips, senior climatologist at Environment and Climate Change Canada, a government agency.
“In some of these places, their (temperature) records are being annihilated,” Mr Phillips said. “It really is spectacular, unprecedented for us.”
‘Won’t be the last’
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau paused to remember the dead during remarks in Ottawa on Wednesday and expressed concern over the fire threat.
“We’ve been seeing more and more of this type of extreme weather event in the past years,” he said. “So realistically, we know that this heatwave won’t be the last.”
US president Joe Biden said climate change was driving “a dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought,” warning that the country was behind in preparing for what could be a record number of forest fires this year.
Lytton, a town in central British Columbia, this week broke Canada’s all-time hottest temperature record three times. It stands at 49.6 degrees as of Tuesday. The previous high in Canada, known for brutally cold winters, was 45 degrees, set in Saskatchewan in 1937. - PA/Reuters