MORE than 130 people have died as a record-breaking "black swan" heatwave continues to grip the Pacific Northwest.
Officials in Oregon on Wednesday said that 116 deaths have been reported in the state since the extreme weather conditions hit last week, sending temperatures reaching as high as a staggering 112F in Portland.
That comes in addition to the 17 people who've so far been killed by the heat in Washington's Spokane County.
The death toll of 131 is expected to rise significantly in the coming days with the heat showing little sign of subsiding.
Officials have cited the unprecedented heatwave to be a "mass casualty event."
Of the 116 deaths recorded in Oregon, the youngest victim was 37 and the oldest was 97.
In Portland’s Multnomah County, where most of the deaths occurred, officials said many victims had no air conditioners or fans and died alone.
One of the deaths included a Guatemalan immigrant who collapsed as he worked at a plant nursery in a rural Oregon town during the soaring heat.
Democratic Gov. Katie Brown on Tuesday directed agencies to study how Oregon can improve its response to heat emergencies and enacted emergency rules to protect workers from extreme heat.
"I am concerned that our recent record-breaking heatwave in the Willamette Valley is a harbinger of what’s to come," Brown said in a statement.
"Even with the immense resources directed to preparing communities for the excessive heat, it is critical that we need to be better prepared, flexible, and resilient.
"At the same time, we must center the voices of historically underserved communities in our emergency planning efforts to make sure we’re meeting all community members where they are."
Temperatures shattered previous all-time records during the three-day heatwave that engulfed Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, Canada.
Authorities say hundreds of deaths may ultimately be attributed to the heat throughout the region.
British Columbia’s chief coroner, Lisa Lapointe, said Friday that 719 sudden and unexpected deaths have been reported in the province during the heatwave.
She called that number "unprecedented" for a seven-day period, adding that more than three times the amount that would typically occur in that time.
The small Canadian town of Lytton broke the nation's all-time record three days in a row, topping out at 121 degrees.
The following day, 90 percent of the town was burned to the ground when a series of fast-moving wildfires swept into the town.
More than 1000 people were forced to evacuate their homes within 15 minutes.
One resident said he watched his parents die when a power line fell on them while trying to hide from the flames.
Jeff Chapman told CBC News he and his parents, who were in their 60s, were preparing for a late afternoon barbecue when they saw smoke and flames approaching.
“There was nothing we could do,” Mr Chapman said. “It came in so fast, we had nowhere to go.”
Officials in Washington’s Spokane County, which recorded record-highs of 109F last week, meanwhile, say the death toll from the past week’s heatwave has reached 17.
The Spokane County Medical Examiner’s Office said in a statement that the dead ranged in age from 26 to 84 and include eight women and nine men.
Similar to Portland, most of the victims were found alone in houses or apartments that didn't have air conditioning.
Many of the victims had underlying health conditions, the medical examiner said. Some also had cognitive impairment or mobility problems.
“Unfortunately, I expect that the true number of deaths related to this extreme weather event will probably be higher before the end of summer and once all hospital deaths are examined,” said Dr. Veena Singh, chief medical examiner for Spokane County.
Scientists believe the recent heatwave could be a sign of things to come, prompted by human-caused climate change.
The West is getting roasted by hotter summer days while the East Coast is getting swamped by hotter and stickier summer nights, an analysis of decades of US summer weather data by The Associated Press shows.
State-by-state average temperature trends from 1990 to 2020 show America’s summer swelter is increasing more in some of the places that endured extreme heat over the last week.
Those include California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon, and Colorado.
“The ridiculous temperatures in the Pacific Northwest may, on one hand, be considered a black swan (ultra-rare) event, but on the other hand are totally consistent” with long-term trends, meteorologist Judah Cohen, of the private firm Atmospheric and Environmental Research, said.
“So I am not going to predict when is the next time Portland will hit 116F but I believe hotter summers for the broader region are here to stay.”
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