SALEM, Ore. (AP
) — Many of the dead were discovered alone, in homes without air conditioning or fans
; some were elderly — one as old as 97 — and one was an immigrant
farm laborer whose body
was discovered in an Oregon
Despite the fact that forecasters warned of a record-breaking heat wave in the Pacific Northwest
and western Canada
last weekend, officials set up cooling centers, distributed water
to the homeless
, and took other precautions, hundreds of people
are believed to have died between Friday and Tuesday.
On Thursday, an excessive heat warning remained in effect for parts of the Northwest and western Canada.
The death toll
in Oregon has risen to at least 70, with Multnomah County, which includes Portland, accounting for 50 of them.
In Canada, British
Columbia's chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said her office received reports of at least 486 "sudden and unexpected deaths" between Friday and Wednesday afternoon, compared to 165 deaths in the province in a five-day period.
She stated that it was too early to say how many deaths were caused by heat, but that the majority of them were most likely caused by heat.
Heat-related deaths have been linked to more than 20 deaths in Washington state
, with authorities predicting that number to rise.
According to county Health
Officer Jennifer Vines, the average victim's age in Multnomah County, Oregon, was 67, and the oldest was 97.
Vines said in a phone interview
Thursday that she was concerned about fatalities due to the weather forecasts, and that authorities did everything they could to prepare, including converting nine air-conditioned county libraries into cooling centers.
Between Friday and Monday, 7,600 people sought refuge among the stacks of books
, while others went to three additional cooling centers, and nearly 60 teams went out to find homeless people and offer them water and electrolytes.
“We scoured the county with outreach efforts, including calls to low-income housing
building managers to check on their residents,” Vines explained.
“It’s been really sobering to see these initial (fatality) numbers come out,” she said, adding that her efforts were insufficient.
“Learning of the tragic loss of life as a result of the recent heat wave is heartbreaking. As an emergency manager – and Oregonian – it is devastating that people were unable to access the help they needed during an emergency,” said Andrew Phelps, director of the Oregon Office of Emergency Management.
Among the dead was a farm laborer whose body was discovered Saturday by coworkers at a nursery in rural St. Paul
, Oregon, where they had been moving
irrigation lines, according to Aaron Corvin, spokesman for the state's worker safety
agency, Oregon Occupational Safety and Health, or Oregon OSHA
Oregon OSHA is looking into labor contractor Andres Pablo Lucas and Ernst Nursery and Farms, which did not respond to a request for comment. Pablo Lucas said the man who died was from Guatemala
, but he declined to elaborate.
Reyna Lopez, executive director of a northwest farmworkers’ union
known by its Spanish-language initials, PCUN, called the death “shameful” and chastised both Oregon OSHA and the nursery for failing to implement emergency rules in advance of the heat wave.
Corvin stated that Oregon OSHA is "exploring the adoption
of emergency requirements" and that "we continue to engage in discussions with labor and employer stakeholders."
Employers are also required to provide plenty of water, shade, extra breaks, and heat-related training, according to him.
An executive order issued by Oregon Gov. Kate Brown in March 2020 would formalize heat protection for workers, but it would be too late for the deceased farmworker, whose name was not disclosed. Brown's order focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions
and also directs the Oregon Health Authority and Oregon OSHA to jointly propose standards to protect workers from excessive heat and wildfire
They had until June 30 to submit their proposals, but due to the coronavirus pandemic
, the two agencies asked that the deadline be moved to September.
The bodies of two men were discovered on a road where dozens of homeless people live in trailers
and tents in Bend, Oregon, a picturesque town next to the snowy Cascade Range.
Volunteer Luke Richter stated that he went into the trailer where one of the men, Alonzo "Lonnie" Boardman, was discovered.
Richter told Oregon Public Broadcasting that “it was obviously too late; it was basically a microwave in there.”
On Saturday, water, sports
drinks, and ice were available at cooling stations set up at the campground.
According to weather experts, the number of heat waves
in the Pacific Northwest will only increase, a region known for cool, rainy weather with a few hot, sunny days thrown in, and where many people lack access to air conditioning.
“I think the community has to be realistic that this is going to be a more common occurrence rather than a one-time occurrence, and that we need to be preparing as a community,” said Dr. Steven Mitchell of Seattle
’s Harborview Medical Center, which treated an unprecedented number of severe heat-related cases.
The heat wave this week was caused by a dome of high pressure over the Northwest, which was exacerbated by human-caused climate change
, which makes such extreme weather
events more likely and more intense.
Seattle, Portland, and many other cities set all-time heat records, with temperatures reaching more than 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) in some areas.
Manuel Valdes of the Associated Press
contributed reporting from Seattle for this story.