An ambulance is seen during the extreme hot weather in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021.
An ambulance is seen during the extreme hot weather in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, June 30, 2021.
Photo: AFP

Over the last few days a record-setting heat wave has swept across North America, with hundreds passing away in Canada and the US. This is an unprecedented situation for usually cool nation, both in terms of the high temperatures and the duration (it began around June 25). Thus far, the death toll has risen to several hundred, with officials warning that there might be worse yet to come.

Cities in British Columbia in western Canada broke at least 59 previous temperature records, including Lytton, where nationwide records have been set and broken in rapid succession. While stores run out of fans and air conditioners and hotels are booked out by desperate locals looking to escape the heat, officials say that number of fatalities is likely to rise in parts of the province.

What is causing it?

The heat wave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more intense.

What is the present situation?

At least 233 people have died in the region amid sweltering heat and some areas are yet to collate data from recently reported sudden death incidents. Police in Metro Vancouver said on Tuesday they had responded to more than 100 sudden deaths since the heat wave took hold. According to British Columbia's chief coroner the number of "sudden and unexpected deaths" had more than doubled over the last few days.

The situation has been made worse by a wildfire that has prompted the authorities to order residents to evacuate a village in British Columbia that smashed the country's record for hottest temperature three days in a row this week. Mayor Jan Polderman of Lytton had issued an evacuation order on Wednesday for all residents. In an interview with CBC News, he said the situation was dire for the community of 250 people. "The whole town is on fire," he said.

Oregon health officials said late Wednesday more than 60 deaths have been tied to the heat, with the state's largest county, Multnomah, blaming the weather for 45 deaths since the heat wave began Friday. Washington state authorities had linked more than 20 deaths to the heat, but that number was likely to rise. In many areas, the temperature continues to remain in the triple-digits.

Meanwhile, in neighbouring USA, the heat has forced schools and businesses to close. About a dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon may be tied to an intense heat wave that brought scorching temperatures to the Northwest and caused one power utility to impose rolling blackouts amid heavy demand.

"But don't worry -- there is no global warming because it's just a figment of our imaginations," jibed President Joe Biden during an infrastructure speech in Wisconsin recently.

(With inputs from agencies)

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