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Four heat-related deaths suspected in Oregon as US suffers early heatwave

By CLAIRE RUSH, TY O’NEIL and CHRISTOPHER WEBER – Associated Press

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Record-high daytime temperatures in Oregon are suspected to be the cause of four deaths reported in the Portland area on Monday, while much of the country was still reeling from an early heat wave.

An extreme heat warning, the highest level of warning issued by the National Weather Service, was issued Monday for California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, while parts of the East Coast, Alabama and Mississippi were given heat advisories. The death of a motorcyclist in California’s Death Valley on Saturday was also attributed to the extreme heat.

In Oregon’s Multnomah County, home to Portland, the medical examiner’s office is investigating four suspected heat-related deaths recorded Friday, Saturday and Sunday, officials said. Three of the deaths involved county residents ages 64, 75 and 84, county officials said in an email. Heat was also suspected in the death of a 33-year-old man who was admitted to a Portland hospital from outside the county.

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Authorities said it could take months to determine the cause of death.

Portland broke daily record temperatures on Friday, Saturday and Sunday and is expected to do so again on Monday with a forecast high of 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.9 degrees Celsius), National Weather Service meteorologist Hannah Chandler-Cooley said.

“We are exploring the potential to break further records,” she said.

The county has been operating three daytime cooling centers since Friday to help people who are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, such as those who live outdoors, the elderly, people with disabilities and people whose homes do not have air conditioning.

The National Weather Service said Portland was expected to experience high temperatures through Tuesday evening, with the most dangerous part of the multi-day heat wave beginning on Monday.

Temperatures are not expected to be as high as a similar heatwave in 2021 – which killed an estimated 600 people in Oregon, Washington and Western Canada – but the duration could be a problem. Many homes in the region do not have air conditioning, and the round-the-clock hot weather means people’s bodies cannot cool down adequately at night. The problem is exacerbated in many cities, where concrete and pavement can trap heat and essentially act like an oven.

The U.S. heat wave came as global temperatures hit a record high for the 13th consecutive month in June and the 12th month in a row that the Earth was 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) warmer than pre-industrial times, the European climate service Copernicus said.

Dozens of locations across the West and Pacific Northwest reached or exceeded previous heat records over the weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday, a maximum temperature of 53.3 degrees Celsius was measured in Death Valley National Park in eastern California. One visitor died there on Saturday as a result of excessive heat, and another person was hospitalized, authorities said.

The two visitors were part of a group of six motorcyclists who were riding through the Badwater Basin area in scorching hot weather, the park said in a statement.

The identity of the deceased person has not been determined. The other motorcyclist was taken to a Las Vegas hospital for “severe heat illness,” the statement said. The high temperatures prevented rescue helicopters from responding because the aircraft generally cannot fly safely in temperatures above 120 degrees Fahrenheit, officials said.

The other four members of the group were treated on site.

“While it is very exciting to experience potentially world-record temperatures in Death Valley, we advise visitors to choose their activities carefully and avoid spending extended periods of time outside of an air-conditioned vehicle or building during such high temperatures,” said park ranger Mike Reynolds.

Be careful in hot weather

Officials warned that heat illnesses and injuries are cumulative and can build up over the course of one or more days.

On the other side of the Nevada desert, a new temperature record of 48.8 °C (120 °F) was set in Las Vegas on Sunday.

Triple-digit temperatures were common throughout Oregon, and several records were broken. In Salem, for example, temperatures reached 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39.4 degrees Celsius) on Sunday, surpassing the 1960 record of 99 degrees Fahrenheit (37.2 degrees Celsius).

“Drink plenty of fluids, stay in an air-conditioned room, avoid the sun and check on relatives and neighbors,” says a weather warning for the Baltimore area. “Small children and pets should never be left unattended in the car under any circumstances.”

Heat records broken throughout the Southwest

Isolated heat warnings were even extended to higher elevations, for example around Lake Tahoe on the border between California and Nevada. The weather service in Reno, Nevada, warned of “significant heat risks, even in the mountains.”

“What kind of heat are we talking about? Well, highs across (Western Nevada and Northeast California) won’t drop below 100 degrees (37.8 degrees) until next weekend,” the service posted online. “And unfortunately, there won’t be much relief overnight, either.”

Even more extreme highs are forecast in the near future, including possibly 130 °F (54.4 °C) around midweek in Furnace Creek, California, in Death Valley. The highest temperature ever officially recorded on Earth was 134 °F (56.67 °C) in July 1913 in Death Valley, although some experts dispute that measurement and say the true record is 130 °F (54.4 °C) recorded there in July 2021.

Weber reported from Los Angeles. AP journalists Margery Beck in Omaha, Nebraska, and Walter Berry in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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