The Multnomah County Medical Examiner has identified 45 deaths due to the historic heat wave that baked Oregon last weekend and into Monday, the county said in a Wednesday press release.
County officials said the dozens of deaths were likely caused by hyperthermia—that is, overheating.
Those who died were between ages 44 to 97, including 17 women and 27 men, the county said. And many of those who died, the county noted, were people with underlying health conditions who were found alone without fans or air conditioning.
In contrast, 12 people died from hyperthermia—which is what happens when the body reaches a high temperature and isn’t able to cope—in the two-year span from 2017 to 2019, according to Multnomah County officials.
“This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people,’' said Dr. Jennifer Vines, the county health officer. “I know many county residents were looking out for each other and am deeply saddened by this initial death toll. As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again.’'
It’s a staggering number: Out of all the records broken over the past four days, the death toll is the most harrowing.
The heat wave broke other records, including the number of heat-related medical calls for emergency medical services, emergency room and urgent care visits, 911 calls, and Portland Fire & Rescue responses.
There were 97 emergency department and urgent care clinic visits for heat illness in Multnomah County from Friday to Monday. In a typical Portland summer, there are about 100 visits total.
Portland Fire & Rescue responded to 299 heat-related incidents, many of which were people left unconscious by the heat or experiencing a heat-related illness.
The county had just about a week to prepare for what climatologists warned would be a dangerous heat dome descending on the Pacific Northwest. In preparation, the county extended library hours, opened cooling centers, handed out tens of thousands of water bottles and stopped enforcing bus fare for those riding to cooling locations.
County spokesperson Julie Sullivan-Springhetti tells WW: “We deeply hope that these numbers will not climb, but we also know that it make take a few days before the full toll is know. The same isolation that puts people at risk for a heat-related death may delay whether we find out if someone succumbed. Check on your neighbors.”
On the afternoon of June 30, the state released the statewide overall known death total so far: 63 people, 45 of those occurring in Multnomah County.
As Tuesday morning came and temperatures dropped to manageable levels, there was a sense of relief that the county had worked through the crisis. Today’s death toll revives the all too dark reality of the human toll the heat dome took.