Community memorializes Oregonians lost to deadly 2021 heat dome

PORTLAND, Ore. (KGW) — Community members and leaders are remembering the nearly 100 Oregonians who died during 2021’s historic heat dome weather event.

City, county and faith leaders from around the Portland metropolitan area gathered at Leach Botanical Garden on a sweltering Sunday to memorialize the heat wave victims.

In June of 2021, several consecutive days of extreme heat—including a record-breaking temperature of 116 degrees in Portland—killed dozens across Oregon. That included an estimated 72 people lost in Multnomah County, according to a report released this week.

Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson with Augustana Lutheran Church spoke to the small crowd Sunday, calling on climate action in the name of those who died.

“The environmental crisis is a spiritual crisis,” Knutson said. “May we recommit ourselves in their names to see and talk about the interconnectedness of human life and global warming…Let us work for that peace with the earth, peace with one another, so nobody dies.”

RELATED: Yes, heat is historically the top weather-related killer in the US

Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler emphasized commitments by the city, noting $4 million in the 2022-2023 budget will help make buildings greener and go toward planting trees in neighborhoods that are considered heat islands.

“The best time to plan for these emergencies was 20 years ago and we didn’t,” Wheeler said, some in the crowd murmuring agreement.

Multnomah County Commissioner Lori Stegmann spoke of other initiatives to boost safety resources for underserved communities, disproportionately impacted by extreme weather events.

“The fact is we weren’t ready,” Stegmann said of 2021’s heat. “[The] message is timely, important and life-saving.”

Leaders are pushing the Heat Week initiative, a series of educational and recreational events, to boost awareness of local resources.

Speakers called on everyone to check in on neighbors in times of need.

“This isn’t just a government issue,” Wheeler said. “Everyone can make a difference.”

Milwaukie Mayor Mark Gamba went a step further, criticizing government and societal systems that have allowed corporations to pollute and earn profits for decades while creating worse outcomes for the global community.

“Our very way of life is imperiling all life on earth,” Gamba said. “Everything about that must change.”

“For the continuity of the human race, there’s nothing less at stake,” Wheeler said.

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