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Heat related death toll grows to 107 people in Oregon

Some people in low-income apartments in Portland have no air conditioning.

PORTLAND, Oregon — On Tuesday, the state medical examiner said 107 Oregonians died during the historic heat wave last month.

Triple-digit temperatures hit the Portland area metro area on June 26-28 and heated up subsidized housing buildings like Northwest Tower. The apartment complex stands 13 stories tall and holds 150 apartment units for low-income people, many of them seniors. It has no air conditioning.

KGW spoke with a caregiver who said she was in a unit on the sixth floor on June 28. She said it was so hot, she decided to take her elderly client to a hotel.

She did not want her name or image used.

“When I picked her up it was three in the afternoon, and her apartment inside was 109 degrees,” she said. 

When asked how she knew it was that hot, the caregiver said her client had a thermometer on the wall.

RELATED: Multnomah County to review heat wave response

Northwest Tower is owned by a public corporation called Home Forward. It used to be called the Housing Authority of Portland. A spokesperson confirmed one resident died during the heat wave, but added it is unclear if the death was heat related.

The lack of specific information is frustrating to many looking for patterns to the heat related deaths including Multnomah County’s Public Health Officer, Dr. Jennifer Vines.

“We’re still waiting for details from the medical examiners work which is painstaking – gathering of information notifying family, reviewing medical records," said Dr. Vines. "Submitting certain tests to verify cause of death. So we’re still waiting to hear details of any patterns of those who died.

KGW asked Dr. Vines if high rises like Northwest Tower should be retrofitted for air conditioning to protect residents from the next heat wave. Dr. Vines said it is too soon to know.

“I can’t say there's a pattern among these deaths we can attribute to high rise apartments at this point. I expect those details to come out,” Dr. Vines said.

Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said she is disturbed by the deaths.

“I just want to say myself and everyone in Multnomah county is grieving for the lives lost. It was a horrible, horrible tragedy,” Kafoury said.

Kafoury said her team is trying to learn more about who died and why, as well as what problems the county might be able to fix before the next heat wave hits.

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com

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