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Death toll from B.C. heat wave climbing

Lisa Lapointe, B.C.'s chief coroner.
Image Credit: SUBMITTED/BC Livestream

There have been 321 more sudden deaths in B.C. in the last five days than normal but Lisa Lapointe, B.C.’s chief coroner, cannot confirm how many of those are heat related.

That number won’t be tallied until a review is conducted by her office into each death.

“We do know many people have been found in residences that are very, very warm, not ventilated, many of whom live alone,” she said during a press briefing today, June 30. “We don’t have their history over the last few hours of their lives.”

While she refused to confirm a reporter's speculation that the death count was in the hundreds, she did make it clear that many of these excess deaths seem to be heat related.

READ MORE: Six heat wave deaths in Kamloops as extreme temperatures take toll

Most at risk have been the elderly, very young and those with underlying health conditions, she said. Many of those who died were living alone and may not have been in contact for some time with family or friends.

Normally there are 165 deaths in B.C. over a five-day period versus the 486 recorded between Friday and 1 p.m. today.

There have only been three heat related deaths in B.C. in the last five years, Mike Farnworth, Minister of Public Safety and Solicitor General, said during an earlier briefing.

Lapointe didn’t have a breakdown of where the sudden deaths occurred but, she said, most were in the Lower Mainland. Lapointe and Farnworth both noted that extreme high temperatures are not uncommon in the Interior of B.C. so those residents are better prepared for dealing with it.

Although, Kamloops RCMP said earlier today that six people had died suddenly in that city since June 25, when the extreme heat conditions began.

“It’s very likely that many of us misunderstood the extreme risks,” Lapointe said. “Many folks didn’t realize the heat could be deadly.”

Over the next couple of months her office will review these deaths and may make recommendations on how to prevent so many heat related deaths from happening in the future but she would not speculate on what those recommendations might be.

Farnworth said that the province’s emergency preparedness act is going to be overhauled.

He speculated that there may need to be requirements for municipalities to have relief plans in place for future heat waves and strata councils may be required to draft plans on how they will regularly check on residents, especially in buildings without air conditioning.

The focus of both briefings was on the fact that Lower Mainland residents are not used to the heat and often don’t have air conditioning so may not have realized how deadly it could become.

Yesterday temperatures in Kamloops hit 47.3 Celsius, 45.7 C in Kelowna and 49.6 C in Lytton, a Canadian heat record. Vancouver’s high was 32.4 C.

“My best advice in this heat is to avoid it as much as possible,” Lapointe said.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Rob Munro or call 250-808-0143 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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