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Heatwave in the USA reportedly claims at least 28 lives
Heatwave in the USA reportedly claims at least 28 lives

A scorching heat wave that has swept across much of the United States in recent days is believed to have killed at least 28 people in the past week, according to reports from state authorities, coroners and news agencies.

The figure, based on preliminary reports from California, Oregon and Arizona, is likely to rise as authorities assess the death toll from a heat wave that began last week, bringing record temperatures in the West and scorching East Coast cities. More than 135 million people in the Lower 48 states were under heat advisories as of Wednesday, many of which are expected to last through the weekend.

Most of the deaths were reported in California, where heat broke daily records in some major cities late last week, including San Jose, Fresno and Oakland. In Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, Chief Medical Examiner Michelle Jorden said her office was investigating 14 cases in which people apparently died of heat-related causes.

According to Jorden, eight of the deceased were over 65 years old and most were found at home. Two were homeless and one person was living in temporary housing.

“I want to stress that these cases are still under investigation,” Jorden said, adding that it would likely take days or weeks to determine a final death toll. At this point, the death toll is not alarmingly high for the region, she said, “but we are obviously going to see another heat wave that will last for the next three days.”

California’s death toll rose 128 degrees on Saturday when a motorcyclist died of heat exposure in Death Valley National Park. A woman incarcerated at the Central California Women’s Facility also died the same day when temperatures reached 110 degrees in the Central Valley, where the prison is located. Although local authorities have expressed doubts about whether the woman’s death was due to the heat wave, her daughter told the Sacramento Bee that she had complained about the extreme heat at the prison for years. On Sunday, a 58-year-old Sacramento man died of heat stroke after being rushed to a hospital from his unair-conditioned home.

Oregon appears to have suffered a number of heat-related deaths as the state experienced triple-digit temperatures for several days.

As of Wednesday afternoon, the Oregon State Medical Examiner’s Office had released information on 10 victims who are believed to have died from heat-related causes. Six people had died in the Portland, Oregon, area; the other four deaths occurred in Washington, Coos, Klamath and Jackson counties. Half of the victims were elderly, others were young. Among them were two 33-year-olds and a 27-year-old, all men. The office did not release details about the circumstances or dates of their deaths.

In Arizona, NPR affiliate KJZZ reported that a four-month-old girl died on July 5 after becoming unresponsive on a boat with her family on Lake Havasu. A spokesman for the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department told the station that the girl had been suffering from a heat-related illness.

Since the beginning of July, hundreds of heat records have been set in the United States, many of them in the West. Temperatures were so high that some rescue helicopters could no longer fly because the air had become too thin for the rotor blades.

The heat waves have not spared the east coast either. In Raleigh, North Carolina, a record high of 41 degrees was reached on Friday. In Maryland, the state health department reported two deaths due to heat in the week of June 30 to July 6.

The total number of deaths caused by the heat wave is likely to remain unclear for a long time, and public health experts warned that the official death toll is most likely underestimated.

Although heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the United States—it kills more people than hurricanes, tornadoes, and wildfires combined—researchers, coroners, and medical professionals still struggle with how to accurately determine the death toll. Heat deaths are not always obvious; they are often overlooked and instead classified as heart failure or other cardiovascular problems, even when heat was the cause.

In several states where residents have been bracing under extreme temperatures in recent days — including Washington, North Carolina and South Carolina — authorities said they have no information on heat-related deaths yet. The California Department of Public Health was unable to provide a statewide estimate of suspected heat-related deaths at the time of publication.

Federal data shows that heat deaths in the United States have steadily increased in recent years, rising to just over 2,300 in 2023. There were about 1,600 heat-related deaths in 2021, and about 1,700 in 2022.

Ashley Ward, director of the Heat Policy Innovation Hub at Duke University, said there are signs that reporting and classification of these deaths is improving. In the past, it has been very difficult to generate public interest in the dangers of heat, she said. But that is starting to change.

“The extreme heat last summer and this summer has put it on everyone’s minds, including those responsible for classifying health outcomes and deaths,” said Ward. “Awareness plays a critical role in

By Everly