Scores of deaths along the U.S. West Coast and in the Vancouver metro area in Canada are being blamed on an ongoing heat wave that has broken records.
Authorities said at least six deaths in Washington and Oregon could be due to the heat wave that began in the region on Friday.
Temperatures in Portland topped at least 116 degrees on Monday after at least three days of record-high temperatures. The area is now cooling off, according to the National Weather Service, but the heat left its mark.
State health officials in Oregon said Tuesday there was a sharp increase in emergency department visits for heat-related illness during the stretch of high temperatures. Hundreds of Oregonians have visited ERs for heat-related illnesses since Friday.
In Seattle, temperatures reached at least 108 degrees at one point, and in Spokane, temperatures reached 109 degrees, the highest temperature ever recorded there.
The King County Medical Examiner's Office in Washington said two people died due to hyperthermia, a condition in which they body becomes dangerously overheated, according to The Seattle Times.
The Snohomish County Medical Examiner's Office on Tuesday reported three men between the ages of 51 and 77 died after experiencing heat stroke at home, according to the Daily Herald in Everett, Wash.
The CDC said that during 2004-2018 the U.S. had an average of 702 heat-related deaths per year (415 with heat as the underlying cause and 287 as a contributing cause).
According to the World Health Organization, heat waves are considered among the most dangerous of natural hazards but rarely receive adequate attention because their death tolls and destruction are not always immediately obvious. From 1998 to 2017, more than 166,000 people around the world died because of heat waves.
Scientists say the warming climate is making heat waves more frequent and intense. The health risks from them may also be greater early in the summer, when people are less accustomed to higher temperatures.
Canadian police respond to extreme heat spell
The Canadian province of British Columbia suffered a record high of roughly 115 degrees Fahrenheit during the past four days of "extreme heat," officials said Tuesday.
The U.S. National Weather Service noted that temperatures reached 121 degrees in Lytton, British Columbia.
The chief coroner in British Columbia announced that between Friday and Wednesday, at least 486 sudden and unexpected deaths had been reported but all the deaths had not been entered into the system yet. Even that preliminary number is a 195% increase over a normal five-day period in the province.
Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said it is too early to say how many deaths were weather-related but "we're not used to this heat."
"We are hearing certainly many times a day now that this may be the way of the future with climate change and global warming," Lapointe said. "These extreme heat events are something that we can anticipate. So absolutely ... what planning do we have in place for extreme heat events?"
As of 1:45 p.m. Tuesday, officers had responded to 20 sudden death calls that day alone, Simi Heer, the director of public affairs for the Vancouver Police Department, tweeted. Most of the victims have been seniors.
The Vancouver Police Department said heat-related deaths have "depleted front-line resources and severely delayed response times throughout the city." They are redeploying dozens of officers and are pleading for people to call 911 only during an emergency.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police urged people in the metro Vancouver area to check on loved ones and neighbors as the heat wave continues.