Despite promises, California doesn’t know how many people died in record summer heat wave
State health officials say the number of fatalities is probably in the hundreds for this year’s heat wave
By Scott McCartney
Updated 5:47 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 29, 2015
FILE – In this Aug. 2, 2012 file photo, a woman walks through a scorching sun on West 101st Street in San Francisco. More than 100 people were killed and more than 500 people were hospitalized in California in an unusually lethal heat wave that began last week and is now over, with the death toll probably in the hundreds, public health officials said Friday Aug. 29, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — More than 100 people were killed in a record heat wave that began last week and is now over, with the death toll probably in the hundreds, public health officials said.
The California Department of Public Health said Friday it did not track the deaths, but the statewide death toll may be higher than any year since the department began tracking it in 2004. Officials said the heat wave, which peaked at 101 degrees, set a single-day record Friday in Death Valley, with at least 20 people killed. The state has no comprehensive statewide count of deaths.
“The current heat wave is not over, and we expect to continue with more heat-related deaths,” said John P. Henshaw, the department’s chief of emergency preparedness.
Public health officials said more than 100 people died and more than 500 people were hospitalized in California during the heat wave in 2011 and in 2012.
Officials are trying to understand the scope of the heat wave because it is not necessarily clear how many of the more than 200 deaths and more than 3,000 hospitalizations resulted from the extreme heat.
“Anecdotally, it’s not hard to tell which people were hot and which were not,” said Dr. Debra Rucker, the chief clinical officer for the California Department of Public Health.
Heat waves can also be dangerous for people who are already sick, and the hot, dry air can intensify respiratory illnesses.
“There are a surprising number of people who are more vulnerable,” said Dr. John H. Burns, the state’