PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The number of deaths in Oregon connected to the record-shattering heat wave has risen to 79, with 52 deaths in Multnomah County alone, according to state police.
Multnomah County announced 45 deaths related to the heat wave on Wednesday afternoon, and by Thursday the number had risen to 52. Marion County officials are investigating 11 deaths believed to be related to the heat wave, while Clackamas and Washington counties each reported eight and seven, respectively, according to state police.
State, county and city leaders are now looking at what happened during the heat wave and how to do better. From Saturday through Monday, records for high temperatures were shattered, eventually topping at 116 degrees on Monday evening.
KOIN 6 News learned from Multnomah County officials on Thursday that many of those who died from heat-related illnesses were not on the street, but were alone in houses and apartments with no A/C or even fans, who didn’t or couldn’t leave when the temperatures skyrocketed into the triple digits. Many of the deaths are believed to be from hyperthermia based on where and how the individuals were found.
The average age of those who died was in their 60s, but some were only in their 40s. On Wednesday, Multnomah County Chief Medical Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines told KOIN 6 News that by Monday, it was clear that death scene calls had tripled.
The City of Portland and Multnomah County worked together to set up 24-hour cooling centers and an overnight shelter at the convention center, but it was not full. Furthermore, several people reported to KOIN 6 News their issues with 211, which is the contact number for help such as getting a ride to a cooling center. Some of those in the heat told KOIN 6 News they didn’t want to go to a place that was far from home.
Chris Voss, director of Multnomah County Emergency Management, told KOIN 6 News despite the county’s outreach effort that helped more than 1,000 people stay overnight in an air conditioned spot, it will look at doing better.
“We’re going to take a hard look. I mean, we didn’t turn anybody away, but we also recognize not everybody that needed some of those locations came to the door and said ‘I need help,’ that’s one of the things we have to think about,” he said.
Some of these solutions could include whether to open more shelters in several more parts of the city and to increase outreach even further with the trained neighborhood volunteer teams.
Multnomah County officials also admitted there were problems with the 211 system and will be examining that; meanwhile, officials also said residents can take the time now to get to know their neighbors while the weather is cooler to know what they may need when the heat and other extreme weather reappears.
Stay with KOIN 6 News as this story develops.