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The number of deaths attributable to Montreal’s ongoing heatwave climbed to 11 as of Wednesday morning, as Urgences-Santé pleaded with the public only to call 911 in case of a genuine emergency and Mayor Valerie Plante called upon Montrealers to look out for neighbours vulnerable to the effects of the record-breaking temperatures.
Santé Montreal confirmed the death toll Wednesday morning, a total that stood at six just a day before.
Dr. Mylène Drouin, head of the regional health authority, confirmed the deaths were attributable to the extreme heat and noted that Urgences-Santé had logged the same jump in ambulance transports as had been recorded during the deadly heat wave of 2010 that claimed the lives of more than 100 people in the Montreal area.
While every death will be investigated, Drouin said that “for the moment, they conform exactly to the characteristics we’ve described — people with chronic illness, mental health problems, people living alone, people living in apartment blocks between four to six storeys and without air conditioning, those living in high heat areas of the city. These are the same criteria we’ve been using with our partners to decide where to conduct door-to-door checks.”
Montreal’s civil protection agency has launched a door-to-door campaign aimed at checking in on those deemed most vulnerable to the heat to ensure their safety and provide tips on how to stay that way during the heat wave. An emergency co-ordination centre has also been set up to monitor the situation on a daily basis and react accordingly.
Despite those measures, Plante reminded Montrealers on Wednesday to show solidarity with their more vulnerable neighbours and take the time to ensure they were safe.
“If you know people with respiratory problems or people who are elderly, don’t hesitate to visit them or give them a phone call to see if they need anything,” she said during a meeting of the city’s executive committee.
Plante also said the city had prolonged operating hours of local pools and community centres equipped with air conditioning.
The heat wave has also triggered a wave of calls to 911 — and apparently stretched the resources of Urgences-Santé to the limit, compelling the paramedic service to urge citizens to take some simple precautions to deal with the heat rather than wait until they need an ambulance.
Urgences Santé estimates it has received about 1,200 calls a day — 30 per cent more than usual — from citizens in Laval and Montreal since the heat wave began last Saturday, and that some genuine emergency call responses have been delayed because of the number of non-urgent calls flooding 911.
The agency has increased the number of paramedics on the road. Management and the rank and file are working overtime to handle the workload. And it is pleading with citizens confronted with minor health problems to call the 811 health information line rather than the 911 emergency line where every second counts.
In Quebec City, Premier Philippe Couillard praised the work done by health professionals during the heat wave.
“It’s tragic, but each time there is a heat wave like this — and by the way we’re going to have more of them because of climate change — it is the weak and vulnerable who are affected first,” he said. “Public health authorities — particularly in Montreal — have taken the matter in hand very well. We have to make sure that our elderly in particular are well hydrated, that they have access to air conditioned areas, even if it’s just to cool off.
“The good news is that according to the weather reports, this heat wave will break in a few days. But we have to expect episodes like this every year.”
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Townships, as many as four deaths are suspected of being linked to the extreme heat.