Oregon governor says ‘absolutely unacceptable’ number of heatwave deaths may be ‘harbinger of things to come’

·2-min read
Oregon set up ‘cooling centres’  as heatwaves swept region (AFP via Getty Images)
Oregon set up ‘cooling centres’ as heatwaves swept region (AFP via Getty Images)

Oregon’s governor has said it is “absolutely unacceptable” that almost 100 people died in her state amid record-breaking heat, and warned it was a harbinger of things to come.

At least 95 people lost their lives as temperatures hit levels not recorded before, with Portland breaking 116F (46.6C) last Monday, the third record-breaking day in succession.

The city and state were among many locations across the US Pacific Northwest, and in western Canada, that suffered from a debilitating “heat dome”, that experts say was made more intense as a recent of climate change.

In Lytton, 160 miles northwest of Vancouver, British Columbia, the entire community was evacuated as fires took hold, and temperatures hit 120F (49.6C)

Kate Brown, Oregon’s governor, said she he ordered a review of the way the authorities responded to the heat that struck there.

She added that it was clear that as with the pandemic, the people who suffered the most in such emergencies were “communities of colour, our low income families”.

“And we have to centre the voices of Black and brown and indigenous people at the forefront of our work as we do emergency preparedness,” she said.

Cities such as Portland and Seattle have typically had some of the lowest percentage of homes with air conditioning.

But as the climate has become drier and hotter, that is changing, with newer homes often fitted with such systems.

Ms Brown said on Sunday her team needed to focus more on getting prepared for such emergencies and letting the most vulnerable know that resources such as “cooling centres”, where people could sit and rest away from the heat, had been established in libraries and government buildings.

She said she had spoken to the president, who had wanted to know how the federal government could help states such as hers, especially with such crises likely to happen more often.

Kate Brown says Joe Biden asked what more government could do to help western states (AFP via Getty Images)
Kate Brown says Joe Biden asked what more government could do to help western states (AFP via Getty Images)

“We need resources, and we need boots on the ground,” she said. “For example, we need financial resources to be able to purchase critical, essential equipment like aircraft to help us fight fire. We need to make sure that we have adequate boots on the ground.”

The governor, who is a Democrat, said the crisis, during which she declared a state of emergency, was a pointer to the future.

“I think the concern … is that this is a harbinger of things to come,” she said.

“We literally have had four emergency declarations in this state at the federal level since April of 2020.”

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