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Unprecedented US heatwave causes blackouts with deaths reported across Northwest

Officials said more than a half-dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon may be tied to the intense heat.

pacific-northwest-heat-wave “We just needed to take a break,” says Robert Peluso of Blanchard, as he and his dog Bailey cool off in the creek at Rathdrum’s City Park Source: Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review via PA Images

THE UNPRECEDENTED NORTHWEST US heatwave has moved inland, prompting an electrical utility in Spokane, Washington, to resume rolling blackouts amid heavy power demand.

Officials said more than a half-dozen deaths in Washington and Oregon may be tied to the intense heat that began late last week.

The dangerous weather that gave Seattle and Portland consecutive days of record high temperatures exceeding 37.7 degrees was expected to ease in those cities. But inland Spokane saw temperatures spike.

The National Weather Service said the mercury reached 42.2 degrees in Spokane — the highest temperature ever recorded there.

About 9,300 Avista Utilities customers in Spokane lost power on Monday and the company said more planned blackouts began yesterday afternoon in the city of about 220,000 people.

Heather Rosentrater, an Avista vice president for energy delivery, said: “We try to limit outages to one hour per customer.”

She said about 2,400 customers were without power as of shortly after 2pm yesterday, mostly on the north side of the city, and those customers had been alerted about the planned outage.

About 21,000 customers were warned yesterday morning that they might experience an outage, she said.

Avista had to implement deliberate blackouts on Monday because “the electric system experienced a new peak demand, and the strain of the high temperatures impacted the system in a way that required us to proactively turn off power for some customers”, said company president and chief executive Dennis Vermillion.

“This happened faster than anticipated.”

Rosentrater said the outages were a distribution problem, and did not stem from a lack of electricity in the system.

pacific-northwest-record-setting-heatwave Jordan Wilson and Sylvia Sanchez enjoy the cool water of the Willamette River by the Hawthorne Bridge in Portland Source: SIPA USA/PA Images

Deaths

Meanwhile, authorities said multiple recent deaths in the region were possibly related to the scorching weather.

The heat may have claimed the life of a worker on a nursery in Oregon, the state’s worker safety agency, known as Oregon OSHA, said on Tuesday.

The man who died was from Guatemala and had apparently arrived in the US only a few months ago, said Andres Pablo Lucas, owner of Brother Farm Labour Contractor that provided workers for the nursery, including the man who died.

Agency spokesman Aaron Corvin said: “The employee was working on a crew moving irrigation lines. At the end of the shift he was found unresponsive in the field.”

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Officials in Bremerton, Washington, said heat may have contributed to four deaths in that Puget Sound city.

But Vince Hlavaty, Bremerton’s medical officer, told the Kitsap Sun that firefighters cannot say definitively whether the heat was the cause of death.

In Bend, Oregon, authorities said the deaths of two homeless people in extreme heat may have been weather-related.

The United Farm Workers (UFW) urged Washington governor Jay Inslee to immediately issue emergency heat standards protecting all farm and other outdoor workers in the state with a strong agricultural sector.

The state’s current heat standards fall short of safeguards the UFW first won in California in 2005 that have prevented deaths and illnesses from heat stroke, the union said in a statement.

Unlike workers in California, Washington state farm workers do not have the right to work shade and breaks amid extreme temperatures.

The heatwave was caused by what meteorologists described as a dome of high pressure over the Northwest and worsened by human-caused climate change, which is making such extreme weather events more likely and more extreme.

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