PORTLAND, Ore. — People in Oregon struggled to get rides to cooling centers during the recent heatwave that is believed to have killed hundreds across the Pacific Northwest, officials said Monday, and staffing shortages prevented callers from reaching operators at an information line. State authorities are examining their response to scorching temperatures that broke all-time records across the region late last month as the American West struggles with a historic drought and climate change makes extreme weather more common and intense. Oregon blamed 116 deaths on the heat, Washington state reported at least 91, and officials in British Columbia say hundreds of “sudden and unexpected deaths” are likely due to the soaring temperatures.
One major complaint from community members was that they did not know where to go to calm down, and they struggled to find that information. For days, officials urged people to call a helpline to connect them with health and social service organizations to learn about cooling centers and transportation. But as temperatures started rising, people said they couldn’t get through to an operator. We found out that 211 was not staffed during the weekend, so we asked what it would take to staff the center so people could get the information they needed,” and Fariborz Pakseresht, director of Oregon’s Department of Human Services. “They told us they needed additional funding to staff the center. We then provided the funding and staffed the phone lines during the heat wave.