PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Forty-five people died in Multnomah County due to the historic heat wave that blanketed the city between Friday and Monday, the bulk of the 63 heat-related deaths recorded statewide.
The Multnomah County Medical Examiner identified the cause of the 45 deaths as hyperthermia. The county said “hyperthermia is an abnormally high body temperature caused by a failure of the body to deal with heat coming from the environment.”
By comparison, there were only 12 deaths from hyperthermia in all of Oregon between 2017-2019.
“That designation is based on what a medical death investigator observes in the environment,” said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “So for example, hot car, hot apartment, no access to air conditioning, found outside, so they use circumstantial evidence to establish that designation.”
Oregon State Police said the total statewide was 63, including the 45 in Multnomah County. Nine of them were in Marion County, five in Washington County, two in Clackamas County, one in Columbia County and one in Umatilla County.
Governor Brown was heartbroken to learn this afternoon of the Oregonians who died from heat-related causes during this weekend’s unprecedented heatwave. Her thoughts are with the families who lost loved ones. State agencies were coordinating with local authorities to assist with emergency preparedness and response leading up to and during the weekend’s unprecedented extreme heat event. Even with the immense resources devoted to the effort, it is unacceptable that people died from exposure to excessive heat. We are working with state agencies to gather more details.Press Secretary Liz Merah
In Multnomah County, the people who died ranged in age from 44 to 97. Seventeen were women and 27 were men. Many had underlying health conditions and some were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan.
My heart goes out to the loved ones of the 63 Oregonians and 45 Multnomah County residents who lost their lives as a result of the recent heat wave. I want to thank the first responders and medical workers who worked tirelessly through the heat to save as many lives as possible.Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler
Emergency rooms in Multnomah County also saw increased visits for heat illness, with 131 between Friday and Monday, which are more visits than they would usually see in an entire summer, according to county officials. On Monday, when the temperature again broke records by peaking at 116 degrees, there was a 63% increase in emergency calls.
‘Vast majority were in housing’
Denis Theriault with the Joint Office of Homeless Services, said the cooling centers were the key to help people out of the dangerous heat. He said 57 outreach teams went into the community with cooling towels and water.
“We had 1000 people over the course of 4.5 days come into our cooling centers,” Theriault told KOIN 6 News. “We got 66,000 bottles of water out, just to people who needed it outside.”
Another 7610 people visited cooling centers at the county libraries.
He believes some of the people who died may have tried to “tough it out” in their homes and it became a dangerous situation.
“What we do know is the vast majority of folks who were found to have died so far were in housing,” he said. “That was actually even worse for folks in housing who couldn’t open a window necessarily or didn’t have any way to cool off their home after 3 days, which was baking. In some ways they had it worse than folks at least outside, 80 degrees outside is still rough but it’s better than 90 degree days in your apartment at night.”
Theriault said it may be important to anticipate more events like this in the future, perhaps every year.
“We need to embrace this notion that we need to help people get air conditioning, that we might be living in a community that actually needs it, in a way that we haven’t needed in past decades,” he said. “I’m spitballing here, but we are going to have people that can’t be alone in housing without air conditioning if we have another heat wave like this.”
As for Multnomah County Animal Services, 47 heat-related calls came in between Friday and Tuesday. Two adult dogs died as a result of the heat.
The Clark County Medical Examiner Office estimated there were 5-10 deaths in the county that may be related to excessive heat.