Joe Biden blames climate crisis for deadly heatwave in western US and Canada

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Joe Biden has joined scientists in blaming the climate crisis for a record-shattering heatwave in the western US and Canada that has been linked to dozens of deaths, buckled roads, blackouts and wildfires.

Officials in Canada have been shocked by the rise in temperature, which on Tuesday hit 49.6C (121.1F) in the town of Lytton, British Columbia, smashing the national record for the third day in a row.

The extended heatwave has also posed a health threat. In the greater Vancouver area, police said they responded to at least 134 deaths over the three-day heatwave.

“We’ve never seen anything like this, and it breaks our heart,” said Sgt Steve Addison. “The vast majority of these cases are related to the heat.”

By Tuesday afternoon, Addison said police in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby had responded to more than 65 sudden deaths since the heatwave that has spread across the Pacific north-west of the Americas began on Friday.

“The large number of these sudden deaths involve seniors between the ages of 92 to 70,” said Constable Sarbjit Sangha of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, in another suburb, Surrey. “The youngest person that we had is a 44-year-old.”

On the US west coast, Seattle and Portland have registered consecutive days of exceptional heat. Local authorities said they were investigating about a dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon that could be attributed to the scorching temperatures.

“Anybody ever believe you’d turn on the news and see it’s 116 degrees in Portland, Oregon? 116 degrees,” said Biden in a barbed criticism of climate change deniers. “But don’t worry – there is no global warming because it’s just a figment of our imaginations.”

Temperatures in the Vancouver area reached just under 32C on Monday, but the humidity made it feel close to 40C in areas that were not near water, according to Environment Canada.

As they responded to hundreds of heat-related calls across the city, police asked the public to call 911 only for emergencies because heat-related deaths had depleted frontline resources and delayed response times.

Officials fear the death toll will rise as more cases are reported from other communities across the province.

Comments from the British Columbia premier, John Horgan, prompted criticism after he was asked if the province did enough to warn residents about the dangerous temperatures.

“The public was acutely aware that we had a heat problem, and we were doing our best to try to break through all of the other noise to encourage people to take steps to protect themselves,” he said. “But it was apparent to everyone who walked outdoors that we were in an unprecedented heat wave, and again, there’s a level of personal responsibility.”

Environment Canada said the weather system broke 103 heat records across British Columbia, Alberta, Yukon and Northwest Territories on Monday.

The US National Weather Service said the peak in the region was 42.2 C on Tuesday in Spokane, Washington, another local record. About 9,300 homes lost power and the local utility Avista Utilities said planned blackouts would be needed on Tuesday afternoon for the city of more than 200,000 people.

The hot, dry conditions also increased fire risks. In northern California, the Siskiyou County sheriff’s office issued evacuation orders for the Lake Shastina and Juniper Valley areas.

Local media reported the dangerous heat in the Pacific north-west was buckling roads as asphalt and concrete expanded to levels engineers had never anticipated.

Referring to the heatwave in the north-west, tBiden said the US needed stronger infrastructure to prepare for extreme weather.

Katharine Hayhoe, a Canadian climate scientist at Texas Tech University, said human emissions had loaded the climate dice by making heatwaves earlier, longer and stronger. She cited studies and government reports showing Canada was warming twice as fast than the rest of the world and monthly higher temperatures were being broken three times more frequently than cold temperature records.

“I’ve worked with climate projections for 25 years so we knew this was coming: yet it’s still a shocker when you see these records falling in real life in a place you’re from,” she tweeted.

Ingrid Jarrett, the chief executive of the British Columbia Hotel Association, said residents in parts of the Lower Mainland, Victoria and the Okanagan regions had been booking air-conditioned rooms so they could continue working and also get some sleep.

Forecasters said the heatwave could ease over parts of British Columbia, Yukon and the Northwest Territories by Wednesday, but any reprieve for the prairie provinces was further off.

  • Wires were used in this report

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