Brown held reopening celebration not knowing of heat-related deaths

Oregon

Multnomah County now says 59 people are believed to have died from heat-related causes

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Officials say state and local agencies and partners are working together to adapt better “preparedness and response” to future disasters after it was revealed Oregon Gov. Kate Brown held a celebration for the state’s reopening as numerous families were grieving the deaths of loved ones after a historic heat wave that had shattered records.

Brown held a reopening ceremony at Providence Park on Wednesday, flanked by health officials, frontline doctors, civic leaders and a member of the Portland Thorns. The governor dropped all statewide COVID restrictions, from masks to capacity limits inside businesses — thanking everyone involved in navigating the pandemic over the past 16 months.

The celebratory energy was a stark contrast to the dire impacts of the record-shattering temperatures still felt by many around the state. According to her office and the Oregon State Police, Brown was not yet aware of the mass amount of deaths that had occurred, which was first reported by The Oregonian.

That number of deaths has risen once again on Friday, with Multnomah County announcing the toll has climbed to a whopping 59 people.

Statewide, the total stood at 94 as of Friday afternoon. The number has the potential to keep rising as medical examiners continue to conduct death investigations.

“The Governor was deeply saddened to learn Wednesday afternoon of the Oregonians who died from heat-related causes during this weekend’s unprecedented heatwave. Unfortunately, the information that OSP released to the public was not shared with the Governor’s Office prior to its release,” Press Secretary Liz Merah said.

Merah cited the various resources put in place to help those most affected by the unprecedented temperatures. She highlighted the coordinated efforts of local officials and authorities with cities, counties and more to establish cooling centers, transportation and water distribution. The governor also directed the Oregon Health Authority to suspend capacity limits at cooling centers, public transit, swimming pools, movie theaters and shopping malls to help people stay cool amid the deadly heat.

Although these resources likely helped a large number of people, the fact remains that Oregon’s governor learned of the deaths at the same time as the greater public.

OSP spokesman Captain Tim Fox took the heat for the lack of communication between the authorities and Brown. Fox explained the agencies had failed to alert Brown of the deaths before sending the information out to the public, saying he would be more diligent in the future.

“Even with these immense resources, it is unacceptable that people died from exposure to excessive heat,” Merah continued. “We are working with state agencies and local partners to gather more details so we can adapt our preparedness and response for the future.”

Full statement from Gov. Brown’s office:

“As mentioned in Wednesday’s statement, the Governor was deeply saddened to learn Wednesday afternoon of the Oregonians who died from heat-related causes during this weekend’s unprecedented heatwave. Unfortunately, the information that OSP released to the public was not shared with the Governor’s Office prior to its release.

State agencies coordinated with local authorities to assist with emergency preparedness and response related to the unprecedented extreme heat event. Leading up to the weekend, the Office of Emergency Management coordinated with cities, counties, stakeholders, and nonprofits to identify needs and resources and to communicate with Oregonians. Local organizations did incredible work establishing cooling centers, transportation to and from those cooling centers, distributing water, and working to meet the needs of their communities. The Governor directed the Oregon Health Authority to suspend capacity limits at cooling centers, public transit, swimming pools, movie theaters, and shopping malls to help Oregonians stay cool over the weekend.

Even with these immense resources, it is unacceptable that people died from exposure to excessive heat. We are working with state agencies and local partners to gather more details so we can adapt our preparedness and response for the future.”

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