Medical examiner in Phoenix predicts record heat deaths

Arizona's record heatwave will result in a record number of heat-related deaths in Maricopa County, the chief medical examiner said on Friday.
Published: Jul. 28, 2023 at 5:33 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) — Maricopa County’s chief medical examiner warned Friday that the Valley could be on its way to breaking a grim record related to the extreme heat. Dr. Jeff Johnston at the Office of the Medical Examiner said the record number of consecutive days of temperatures at or above 110 degrees could make this the deadliest year for heat deaths. “We do have surges every summer because of the heat,” Johnston said of the number of bodies being admitted into his morgue. “This one is definitely unique and worse than we’ve seen in the past. Our previous record was last year. This one’s gonna beat it.”

Ten coolers are now at a downtown Phoenix parking garage next to the morgue and they could be used to store bodies if needed, officials say.

The current record for heat deaths in Maricopa County was set in 2022, when 425 people died. So far this year, the county has confirmed 25 people have died with another 249 possible deaths related to heat still under investigation.

To prepare for the potential spike in deaths, the county ordered 10 cold storage units which arrived this week. Johnston said the coolers have added 50% to the county medical examiner’s storage capacity. As of Friday, they were not being used but Johnston said that could change as early as next week.

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