Updated data released from the BC Coroners Service shows that last summer’s record-breaking heat wave claimed the lives of at least 595 people.
The largest number of deaths — at least 526 — were recorded from June 25 to July 1, when a heat-dome weather event led to the mercury hitting the high 30s and low 40s in numerous communities.
The deaths that occurred in the subsequent weeks were attributed to injuries suffered during the heat-dome period.
“While we expect the findings of the death review will significantly contribute to efforts to increase public safety, we must take steps to prepare for future extreme weather events now,” chief coroner Lisa Lapointe said in a news release on Monday.
“The effects of climate change are both real and unpredictable. Having a plan to regularly check in with loved ones who live alone, being aware of cooler and air-conditioned areas in your neighbourhood, and heeding early warnings about extreme weather are simple steps that will help ensure we are all properly prepared and safe.”
The BC Liberals have previously criticized the provincial government for being slow to react to concerns about the effects of the heat wave.
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Health Ministry Adrian Dix has said the government was faced with a once-in-one-thousand-years weather event, and now it must learn lessons — pointing to the province’s efforts to fight climate change, increase income assistance payments, hire more staff at long-term care homes, and hire more paramedics.
The heat-related deaths have also been linked to the shortage of ambulances in many communities and longer-than-expected wait times for 911 calls.
Nearly three-quarters of the deaths recorded between June 25 and July 1 occurred in the Fraser (273) and Vancouver Coastal (120) health regions.
The highest numbers of deaths were recorded on June 28 (131) and June 29 (231).
The three cities with the highest number of deaths were Vancouver (99), Surrey (67) and Burnaby (63).
Individuals aged 70 or older accounted for 69 per cent of the deaths. No such deaths were reported among children.
The coroners service continues to conduct individual investigations into each of the 595 heat-related deaths, with a completion goal of early 2022.
The service said it will also convene a death review panel that will create recommendations intended to prevent similar deaths.