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.