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Death toll continues to increase with 59 in Multnomah County, seven in Washington County and eight in Clackamas.

PMG FILE PHOTO - An American Medical Response lifeguard returns from a stint on the Sandy River at Glen Otto Park in 2015.At least 79 people perished during a historic heatwave that shattered thermometers and strained hospital systems across Oregon, according to state authorities.

A majority of the deaths — 54 — occurred in Multnomah County, with another eight reported in Washington County and 10 in Clackamas County, state troopers say.

Authorities have not released their identities, but the details available point to isolation and exposure to the outdoors as keye factors:

• A spokeswoman for Clackamas County described one of the heat deaths as involving an elderly woman found in a manufactured home with no air-conditioning.

• Another victim was a woman in her 80s living by herself in the unincorporated area of Scappoose, according to the local sheriff.

Media reports detailed the deaths of a Umatilla construction worker found in a trailer without AC and two homeless people in Washington County.

According to initial reports from a medical examiner, the deaths since Friday, June 25, were triggered by hyperthermia — the clinical term for a deadly body temperature caused by an abnormally hot environment.

"This was a true health crisis that has underscored how deadly an extreme heat wave can be, especially to otherwise vulnerable people," said Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. "I know many county residents were looking out for each other and am deeply saddened by this initial death toll. As our summers continue to get warmer, I suspect we will face this kind of event again."

State tallies show those who died ranged in age from 38 years old to 97. They included 26 women and 32 men, and a Multnomah County resident whose gender wasn't immediately available. Three of the victims were in their 90s, nine were in their 80s, 19 were in their 70s, 23 were in their 60s, 18 were in their 50s, six were in their 50s and one was in his 30s, per state data.

"Many of those who died were found alone, without air conditioning or a fan," according to a news release. "For comparison, for all of Oregon between 2017 and 2019, there were only 12 deaths from hyperthermia."

Emergency rooms overflowed during the crisis — with the Oregon Health Authority reporting more than 500 hospitalized for heat-related illnesses in the tri-county area. In Multnomah County alone, doctors treated 131 people in the ER or at urgent care, while pleas to 911 spiked to 491 calls by Monday, June 28, a 63% increase over normal.

The heatwave rewrote the history books on three consecutive days, Saturday through Monday, June 26 to 28, breaking the region's all-time highs for recorded temperatures.

According to KOIN 6 News, Portland hit 108 on Saturday, June 26, then followed up with 112 on Sunday, and at 2:30 p.m., the National Weather Service announced Portland International Airport had officially hit 113. But the record was set shortly after 5 p.m. Monday, June 28, when the official temperature at PDX hit 116 degrees.

Relief, such as it was in the upper 90s, only arrived Tuesday. On Thursday, Portlanders woke up to gray skies and an early morning drizzle.

"Anecdotally, hospitals were reporting two to five times the number of cardiac arrests and a steady drumbeat of arriving ambulances," according to the release. "And that number is likely an undercount because emergency departments have been on 'divert' status for some periods during the heatwave."

Nine heat fatalities were reported in Marion County and one each in Columbia and Umatilla counties.

"This number may change in either direction as more information or reports are received from each County Medical Examiner's Office," Oregon State Police Capt. Tim Fox told Pamplin Media. "Again, these are preliminary numbers as some investigations are still in progress and final causes of death have not yet been determined."

Around 1,040 sheltered in Multnomah County cooling shelters overnight, and several hundred more arrived during the day. Volunteers distributed 18,000 water bottles in four hours on their busiest day, and 60,000 bottles overall. Another 7,000 people sheltered in libraries.

Multnomah County Animal Services specialists say two adult dogs died in the scorching temperatures, among 47 calls for heat-related help for pets and wildlife.


Zane Sparling
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