PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — On June 26, 2021, an historic heatwave enveloped Portland, the metro region and most of Oregon with high temperatures never before seen in the Pacific Northwest.
Exactly one year later, Multnomah County officials released their final report documenting the health impacts from that heat dome that took the lives of 72 people.
To honor those who died during the record-shattering heat dome in 2021, elected officials and health experts held a memorial Sunday where Multnomah County officials shared findings from this updated report.
“We’re here today not only to talk about what we’re doing going forward but to reflect on the cost of inaction to vulnerable people in our community,” Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said.
Brendon Haggerty, the interim supervisor of the Healthy Homes and Communities Team at the Multnomah County Health Department, said everyone is affected by these heat waves.
“This can happen to you. In fact, it’s something that can happen to all of us,” Haggerty said. “The week after the heat dome event I was in the office that processes death certificates and the staff were truly in tears reading the reports, realizing it could have been them or one of their family members.”
But the report notes there are some common risk factors.
In the final report Multnomah County said that two-thirds of those who died in the heat wave were men, 79% were seniors 60-and-older, and that living alone played a major factor.
Of the 72 people who died in Multnomah County, 48 lived alone.
Air conditioning — or the lack of it — was also a key factor: 49 who died had either just a fan or no cooling unit of any kind.
At least one person died in almost every ZIP code of the county, but most of the deaths were concentrated in East Portland and in the downtown core. Those deaths coincided with the “heat islands” in the county, where more heat is trapped by roads and buildings.
Most of the heat-related deaths happened on the hottest day ever recorded in Portland and the next 2 days, the period of June 28 through June 30. The temperature on June 28, 2021 reached 1116 degrees.
In addition to cooling center and mist stations, Multnomah County has also partnered with organizations to provide free air conditioners to qualifying low-income households.
“In preparation for the summer we’ve increased the coordination between the city and Multnomah County to ensure there is a single, unified response to severe weather,” the mayor said.
Wheeler also urged everyone to keep checking on vulnerable neighbors and those who live alone during these high temperature days.