'Mass casualties': Over 100 people dead in 'black swan' heatwave

·4-min read

More than 110 people have died as a record-breaking heatwave, which has been described as a "mass casualty event", grips North America.

The medical examiner in the US state of Oregon on Wednesday (local time) released an updated list of fatalities from the heatwave that added nine additional deaths.

Seattle, Portland and many other cities broke all-time heat records, with temperatures in some places reaching above 46 degrees.

A weather map shows northwest US and British Columbia, Canada, going through a heatwave.
An image by NASA's Goddard Earth Observing System shows the air temperature. Source: NASA

Temperatures shattered previous all-time records during the three-day heatwave that engulfed Oregon and Washington in the US as well as British Columbia in Canada. Authorities say hundreds of deaths may ultimately be attributed to the heat throughout the region.

Of the 116 deaths recorded, 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.

Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, 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 after a farm labourer collapsed and died June 26 at a nursery in rural St Paul.

Of the 116 killed, 67 were in Multnomah County which called it a "mass casualty event".

A man cools off in a fountain at Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland.
A Baltimore man cools off on a fountain. Source: Getty Images

Sweltering temperatures, wildfires devastate town

Meanwhile, temperatures in Lytton, Canada, reached 46.9 as the town was ravaged by wildfires killing two people.

The temperature broke an 80-year record.

The roughly 1000 residents of Lytton fled their homes last Wednesday evening after suffering the previous day under a record high temperature.

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.”

Alfred Higginbottom, of the Skuppah Indian Band – a Nlaka'pamux First Nations government, watches as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton, British Columbia.
Alfred Higginbottom, from the Skuppah Indian Band – a Nlaka'pamux First Nations government, watches as fires burn down a mountain in Lytton. Source: AAP

Mr Chapman said he helped his parents take shelter in a trench that had been dug to repair a septic system. He covered the trench with some tin. Then he spent the next 45 minutes laying on the gravel of a railway track as the fire burned around him.

When he returned for his parents, a power line had fallen on them.

“We just tried to save what we worked our whole life for,” he said.

“It might not have been the best, but it was home.”

A motorist travels on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns on the side of a mountain in Lytton.
A driver on the Trans-Canada Highway as a wildfire burns. Source: AAP

Those who escaped the fire scattered to evacuation centres across the province.

John Haugen, acting chief of the Lytton First Nation, said many people are still in shock over losing their homes.

“For many it’s traumatic,” he told Global News.

“They still haven’t been able to really wrap their heads around they have no home to go back too.”

Heatwave could be sign of things to come

Scientists believe the recent heatwave fits into a decades-long pattern of uneven summer warming across the United States.

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 just got baked with extreme heat over the past week: California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Oregon and Colorado.

People cool off from extreme heat in Crabtree Creek near Scio. Areas of northwest Oregon broke records with temperatures reaching above 43 degrees on Monday.
Children cool off in Crabtree Creek near Scio in northwest Oregon. Source: AAP
A man cools off in Salmon Street Springs downtown Portland, Oregon.
A man drenches himself in the heat at Salmon Street Springs downtown Portland, Oregon. Source: AAP

The West is the fastest-warming region in the country during June, July and August, up 3 degrees on average since 1990. The Northwest has warmed nearly twice as much in the past 30 years as it has in the Southeast.

Although much of the primary cause of the past week’s extreme heat was an unusual but natural weather condition, scientists see the fingerprint of human-caused climate change, citing altered weather patterns that park heat in different places for longer periods.

“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 116 (Fahrenheit, or 46 degrees Celsius) but I believe hotter summers for the broader region are here to stay.”

Do you have a story tip? Email: newsroomau@yahoonews.com

You can also follow us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and download the Yahoo News app from the App Store or Google Play.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting