Heatwave grips eastern Canada, leaving 34 dead across Quebec, 18 in Montreal

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A sweltering heat wave is affecting much of central and eastern Canada. At least 34 people have died in Quebec over the past few days, with at least 18 in the city of Montreal, prompting city officials to unveil their emergency response plan to avoid a spike in the number of deaths. The heat wave started on Friday, June 29 with temperatures reaching more than 45 °C (113 °F) this past weekend along with high humidity. The warm and humid airmass over Southern Quebec will persist through Thursday, July 3. Today, humidex values will reach near 40 °C (104 °F). However, conditions will grow even more uncomfortable on Thursday with humidex values reaching 43 °C (109.4 °F).

Montreal residents made hundreds of calls to 811 and ambulances on Monday and Tuesday, July 2 and 3, 2018, forcing officials to raise the city response level from 'alert' to an 'intervention.' 

The city's public health director, Dr. Mylène Drouin, said officials want to avoid repeating what happened in 2010 when extreme heat caused 106 deaths in the Montreal area.

Santé Montréal, the city's public health department, said Wednesday morning the number of deaths in the Montreal area rose to 11. Dr. David Kaiser of the public health department said on CBC's The Current those who died in Montreal did not have air conditioning in their homes and had health issues. 

"It's people who are not necessarily dying of what we think of as heat stroke, but that are dying of their underlying medical problems in a context where it's really hot in their apartments," Kaiser said. "The heat just overwhelms the body's capacity to adapt."

Urgences-Santé says it has received more than 1 200 calls a day since the heat began, representing a 30% increase to its busiest days.

In a statement issued Wednesday morning, July 4, they requested people to avoid calling 911 if they are feeling ill from the heat. They urged people to first seek help from friends and family or to call 811 first for tips on how to handle minor health issues where life is not at risk.

Mayor Valérie Plante urged people to check on vulnerable neighbors, including seniors. Safety of residents is "of the utmost importance" during the ongoing heat wave, she said.

Firemen and police officers have visited 1 300 homes out of 5 000 planned across the area so far.

According to Bruno Lachance, Montreal fire department chief, firefighters check on citizens during these house calls, and if the heat is seriously impacting them, they will send them to hospital. Only one person has been referred to the hospital so far.

Southern Ontario has been hard hit as well with the humidex in Ottawa on Canada Day reaching 47 °C (116.6 °F), the highest recorded for the city.

Featured image credit: Mark Langdon

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