Some senior citizens also passed on from the heatwave, the oldest being 97 years old. In an Oregon nursery, authorities found the body of an immigrant farm labourer.
Last weekend, forecasters warned of a record-breaking heatwave in the Pacific Northwest and western Canada. As such, officials distributed water to the homeless, set up cooling centres, and took other action.
However, from Friday to Tuesday, hundreds of people are believed to have died from the heatwave.
On Thursday Jul 1st, authorities extended an excessive heat warning for parts of western Canada and the interior Northwest.
The Oregon state medical examiner said on Thursday that the death toll in the state alone reached 79. The most number of deaths occurred in Multnomah County, which surrounds Portland.
Sudden and unexpected deaths in Canada
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia’s chief coroner, said her office in Canada, received reports of at least 486 “sudden and unexpected deaths”. The deaths occurred between Friday and Wednesday afternoon. She said that over a five-day period, the normal death rate in the province would be around 165 people.
According to Lapointe, it is too early to confirm how many deaths were heat related. However, she said the heat could be the likely culprit behind the majority of the deaths.
Situation in the US
In the US, over 20 deaths are linked to the heatwave, according to Washington state authorities. The authorities expect the figures to rise in the coming days.
Actions taken by authorities
According to US county Health Officer Jennifer Vines in Oregon’s Multnomah County, the average victim’s age was 67 and the oldest was 97.
Vines was worried about fatalities amid the weather forecasts. She said this during a telephone interview on Thursday.
Authorities turned nine air-conditioned county libraries into cooling centers, while preparing the best they could to combat the heatwave. Nearly 7,600 people cooled off amid the stacks of books between Friday and Monday. Others however, went to cool off at three more cooling centers.
There were nearly 60 aid teams looking out for homeless people. The teams went around offering electrolytes and offered water to the homeless.
Vines said “We scoured the county with outreach efforts, with calls to building managers of low-income housing to be checking on their residents”.
She said “It’s been really sobering to see these initial (fatality) numbers come out” as the efforts weren’t enough.
Andrew Phelps, Oregon Office of Emergency Management Director, agreed with Vines. Phelps said “Learning of the tragic loss of life as a result of the recent heatwave is heartbreaking. As an emergency manager – and Oregonian – it is devastating that people were unable to access the help they needed during an emergency.”
At a nursery in rural St Paul, Oregon, fellow workers found a foreign farm labourer dead on Saturday. Aaron Corvin is a spokesman for the state’s worker safety agency, Oregon OSHA. Corvin said the workers were moving irrigation lines.
Labour contractor Andres Pablo Lucas and Ernst Nursery and Farms are currently under investigation by Oregon OSHA. A request for comment received no response from the nursery. The dead man came from Guatemala said Pablo Lucas. Lucas declined to comment further on the matter.
The death was shameful according to Reyna Lopez, executive director of a northwest farmworkers’ union. The union goes by its Spanish-language initials, PCUN. Lopez blamed both the nursery and Oregon OSHA for not adopting emergency rules ahead of the heatwave.
2nd July 2021 23:00
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