Authorities say nearly 500 people have died in Canada’s westernmost province across five days, as record-breaking temperatures raise serious concerns for vulnerable groups, including the elderly.
British Columbia’s chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said on Wednesday afternoon that the BC Coroners Service received at least 486 reports of deaths between Friday and Wednesday afternoon – a total she said was preliminary and expected to increase.
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The fatalities represent a 195 percent increase from the approximately 165 deaths that would normally occur in the province across a five-day period, Lapointe said.
“The last five days in British Columbia have seen an unprecedented number of deaths reported to the BC Coroners Service,” she said in a statement.
“While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced and continues to impact many parts of our province.”
Temperatures have soared in BC and other Canadian provinces and territories as a so-called “heat dome” – a weather system that traps in hot air – descended on the country’s west coast, as well as in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.
“It’s like a lid or a top, and nothing can get in, weather can’t get in to remove that heat, it just builds,” Dave Phillips, a meteorologist with Environment Canada, told CTV’s Your Morning news programme.
Experts have also said climate change contributed to the record-shattering heat. Lytton, a town in central BC, broke Canadian high-temperature records three times this week, hitting 49.6C (121.28F) on Tuesday.
Metro Vancouver Police said on Tuesday evening that officers had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since the heat wave began on Friday, while police in Burnaby and Surrey, cities in the greater Vancouver area, also reported dozens of sudden deaths. Police said many of the deaths were elderly people.
“The vast majority of these cases are related to the heat,” Vancouver police Sergeant Steve Addison said in a statement. “We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our hearts. If you have an elderly or vulnerable family member, please give them a call or stop by to check on them.”
A heat warning remains in effect for the Greater Vancouver Area, but Environment Canada said on its website that the heat “will become less intense” starting on Wednesday, though temperatures are likely to stay unseasonably warm for the rest of the week.
Environment Canada urged people to stay hydrated and remain indoors, and to check on older family members and neighbours.
The extreme heat is expected to extend to other parts of the country on Thursday, said meteorologist Doug Gillham, with high-temperature records potentially breaking in several cities including Kelowna, BC; Calgary and Edmonton, Alberta; and Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
“The hot weather will extend all the way to the Northwest Territories and Nunavut,” Gillham said in a post on The Weather Network website.