Hundreds of deaths in Canada's western province of British Columbia and in U.S. states of Washington and Oregon have been linked to a heat wave that has roasted these areas for days and broken Canadian heat records, sending hundreds of thousands of people scrambling for relief, reported The New York Times on Thursday.
Lisa Lapointe, British Columbia's chief coroner, said 486 deaths had been reported there between Friday and Wednesday afternoon -- a period in which about 165 deaths would normally be documented. Deaths were expected to increase, she said.
"While it is too early to say with certainty how many of these deaths are heat related, it is believed likely that the significant increase in deaths reported is attributable to the extreme weather B.C. has experienced," she added.
Oregon's state medical examiner's office on Wednesday attributed at least 63 deaths in five days to the punishing heat in the state, including 45 in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, where temperatures reached a record 116 degrees Fahrenheit -- 100 degrees Fahrenheit approximately equals 37.8 degrees Celsius.
In Washington, officials reported nearly a dozen lives lost to hyperthermia on Wednesday alone in King County, which includes Seattle; two heat-related deaths were reported there the day before.
In Snohomish County, Washington, at least three people died this week from heatstroke, according to the medical examiner's office, which added that investigations are pending into at least two more suspected heat-related deaths.
"This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people," Jennifer Vines, the Multnomah County health officer, said in a statement. "I know many county residents were looking out for each other and am deeply saddened by this initial death toll."
This year a study found that 37 percent of heat-related deaths could be linked to climate change. Global warming has raised baseline temperatures by nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit on average since 1900, experts said.
"Climate change is increasing the frequency, intensity and duration of heat waves," Kristie Ebi, a professor in the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the University of Washington, was quoted as saying.
"When you look at this heat wave, it is so far outside the range of normal," added Ebi.