B.C. records 486 sudden deaths, almost triple the usual number, during heat wave
Number likely to increase as more reports filed, chief coroner says
At least 486 people died suddenly over the past five days during B.C.'s record-breaking heat wave, almost three times the usual number, the provincial coroners service said Wednesday.
Roughly 165 sudden deaths would normally occur in the province over that period. The new tally accounts for deaths between Friday and 1 p.m. PT Wednesday, chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a statement.
"We believe that heat is very likely a factor in many of those deaths, but that is to be confirmed," she said in a briefing.
Lapointe said many of the people who died lived alone and were found in residences that were hot and not ventilated.
She said the 486 number is preliminary and will increase as coroners enter other death reports into the agency's system.
"It is important we do not lose sight of the fact that each reported death is a person with a family and people who cared about them," she said.
Coroners have been delayed in responding to scenes due to a surge in sudden deaths in some areas, Lapointe said.
She said the agency has enlisted coroners from its service who typically don't work in the field and is working to minimize wait times.
'Took many of us off guard'
Lapointe said B.C. had seen only three heat-related deaths in the past three to five years before the heat wave.
"This, frankly, took many of us off guard," she said.
"Many of our health services, our first responders, we haven't experienced anything like this in the province previously. It took a bit of time for us to ramp up our response. There were some delays in reaching the coroner and there were some delays in responding to scenes."
She added: "We feel much more confident now that we can respond more quickly."
Lapointe said the agency will look at patterns in the deaths, including regions where they occurred, the age and sex of the person, any underlying health conditions they might have had and their type of dwelling.
The report will also study best practices in other jurisdictions and provide recommendations to the province. Lapointe said it will take a couple of months to complete.
"Certainly the province has indicated that they are very looking forward to any recommendations that come forward," she said.
Lapointe said an updated tally of sudden deaths will be provided Friday.