March 3, 2022

Heat wave update: 486 sudden deaths reported in B.C. over 5 days

A staggering 486 sudden deaths were reported across British Columbia over the past five days as the province suffered under a blistering heat wave, coroners said Wednesday.

That includes 98 sudden deaths in Vancouver, where police said two-thirds of the victims were age 70 or older. More than 100 other unexpected fatalities were reported in Surrey and Burnaby combined.

The government is still working to determine how many of the deaths are directly related to the sweltering heat that’s broken dozens of local and national temperature records, but the B.C. Coroners Service said it’s likely many are connected to the weather.

Chief coroner Lisa Lapointe called the number of deaths recorded since Friday “unprecedented” in the province, and said officials will be reviewing what happened in the hopes of preventing such a tragic outcome in future heat waves.

“On the coast, we’re not used to the extreme weather events,” she added. “There are many things, I think, that many of us can learn in terms of response, in terms of informing the public about the risk.”

The 486 sudden deaths reported between Friday and Wednesday afternoon represent a 195 per cent increase over the number of deaths that would normally be expected over a five-day period, according to coroners.

Lapointe said it’s likely that many British Columbians “misunderstood” the danger they were facing as temperatures soared, despite warnings from Environment Canada and others.

While temperatures have come down in Vancouver, they remain high in many parts of the province. Lapointe urged the public to continue touching base with family members, friends and neighbours – particularly those who live alone – to ensure their safety until the heat wave is over.

“Please arrange regular check-ins with those who live alone, and encourage everyone you know to drink water, stay in the shade as much as possible and visit cooler environments whenever they can,” she said.

Many of the people found dead in recent days were found in hot homes that were not well ventilated. Often, they lived alone.

B.C. Public Safety Minister Mike Farnworth was grilled Wednesday on the government’s response to the heat wave. Asked whether the province was caught off guard, Farnworth noted B.C. suffered only three heat-related deaths over the previous five years.

“The reality is we’ve never seen anything like this in B.C., and in fact the country, but especially in the Lower Mainland,” Farnworth added.

“After we are past this, we will have to take a hard look at what we need to change for the future.”

The minister also pointed to the provincial funding that allowed municipalities to open up cooling centres for the public.

Premier John Horgan faced backlash on Tuesday after defending B.C.’s response and calling fatalities “a part of life.” He has since walked those comments back, posting on Twitter that his comments “didn’t reflect” the fact that “mourning families deserve our compassion.”

“Nothing can ease the pain of losing a loved one, whether it’s from the unprecedented heat wave or any other cause,” Horgan said.

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