A heatwave rolling through central and eastern Canada has caused the deaths of more than 30 people, with officials warning that the extreme weather conditions are expected to continue for at least another day.
The sweltering combination of heat and humidity, which began on Saturday, has been linked by health officials to the deaths of 33 people across southern Quebec.
Most of the victims lived alone, had health issues and did not have access to air conditioning, David Kaiser, a physician at Montreal’s public health department, told Reuters.
The furnace-like conditions are expected to continue on Thursday, with Environment Canada issuing warnings for southern Quebec, along with parts of Ontario, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.
Montreal reached a high of 34C (93F) degrees on Wednesday, with a humidity index near 40 (104F). On Thursday temperatures are expected to rise slightly to 35C degrees while humidity values will reach between 40 and 45 in the region – a level at which people are warned to avoid exertion.
Temperatures are expected to cool to 24C on Friday.
“My thoughts are with the loved ones of those who have died in Quebec during this heat wave,” the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau wrote on Twitter. “The record temperatures are expected to continue in central & eastern Canada, so make sure you know how to protect yourself & your family,” he added, along with a link to information on how to cope with extreme heat.
Montreal’s emergency services said in a statement that they have been stretched to the limit as more than 1,200 heat-related calls a day – a 30% increase over the usual – have come pouring in. They urged Montrealers not to dial 911 for non-urgent ailments.
The city’s fire and police departments have visited 20,000 homes to check on residents in recent days, while the city extended the hours of local swimming pools and community centres equipped with air conditioning.
In 2002, the city became one of the first in North America to adopt a heat response plan. The plan was refined in 2010, after a heatwave led to more than 100 deaths in the Montreal area.
Valérie Plante, Montreal’s mayor, called on the public to help keep residents safe. “I’m counting on Montrealers to knock on doors, maybe of a neighbour, just to find out if the person is OK. It’s a team effort,” she told reporters.
Philippe Couillard, the premier of Quebec, praised the response of public health officials. “It’s tragic, but whenever there are heatwaves like this – and we will have more of them because of climate change – it is the weak and vulnerable who are affected first,” he said. “The good news is that according to the weather reports, this heatwave will break in a few days. But we have to expect episodes like this every year.”