A SIGNIFICANTLY higher than average number of sudden deaths have occurred across Adelaide on the third consecutive day of 40C-plus temperatures.
Since midnight, police have attended deaths at 19 separate addresses across the metropolitan area, Adelaide Now reported.
Health Minister John Hill said 14 of the 19 dead were elderly people.
“How many of them are associated with the heat is speculative – but it’s obviously a high number,” he said.
“About 14 of those were elderly. Normally the Ambulance Service would have just a few during a day, so this is a much higher number. So, you’ve got to draw the conclusion that a lot of them have something related to the effects of heat.
“But it’s probably people who were very ill anyway and the heat may have brought forward was going to happen.”
State duty director for the SA Ambulance Service Neale Sutton said callouts had reached record levels during the heatwave.
Paramedics have attended more than 800 callouts in the last 48 hours, almost 600 of which have been emergencies requiring further treatment.
“The heat can work on those people that have chronic disease and we can see a lot of increase in that area,” Mr Sutton said.
But he claimed it was impossible to confirm if the surge in sudden deaths was attributable to the heatwave until autopsies were performed.
“Obviously in time we will be able to analyse that sort of information,” Mr Sutton said.
Opposition health spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said “any sudden death is a tragedy”.
“I would urge neighbours to check regularly on elderly residents to ensure they are coping or invite them into their air conditioned homes to escape the heatwave,” she said.
“Out of this extreme weather we must regain our sense of community spirit and care for those who are most vulnerable.”
Heat to continue
Respite is still at least a week away in South Australia, where the state’s electricity supply was cut in rolling blackouts amid record demand.
Yesterday’s temperature in Adelaide reached 43.4C at 3.10pm after an overnight minimum of 33.9C at 12.30am, which surpassed the previous record of 33.5C on January 24, 1982.
AdelaideNOW reports daytime temperatures are forecast to remain at 38C or above for the next seven days, before rising to 40C again next Thursday. Experts say Adelaide could match or exceed last year’s record heatwave of 15 days of temperatures above 35C.
Rail workers toiled through the night to prepare buckled tracks for morning commuters and perishable food was ruined in supermarkets.
The state’s Country Fire Service is on full alert.
Meanwhile, Melbourne is officially in its hottest-known three-day heatwave, after the temperature again broke through the 43 degrees celsius barrier today.
Today’s temperature of 43.8 degrees recorded at 1.52pm (AEDT) marked the first time since records began in 1855 that the city has had three consecutive days above 43.
On Wednesday the temperature reached 43.4 degrees and yesterday it got to 44.3 degrees.
Melbourne is also experiencing its driest period since 1965 with 27 days without rain, and none is forecast in the immediate future.
The city’s record dry spell occurred in 1955 when the city had 40 days without rain, the bureau said.
However, there is some good news with the extreme heat expected to drop to 35 degrees on Saturday, 33 on Sunday and 34 on Monday.
Hundreds of firefighters in regional Victoria battled to save homes from bushfires raging through the night in conditions veterans said were just like the worst heat of the day.
About 500 firefighters worked all night in punishing conditions which provided no relief from the searing temperatures experienced yesterday in the nation’s southeast and with little certainty that their efforts did any good.
Dozens of homes were at risk in the Latrobe Valley towns Boolarra and Darlimurla. The Country Fire Authority said it would only become clear later today if any homes were lost.
“Normally overnight we get a certain amount of humidity and a drop of winds that will ease the actual fire behaviour, but it hasn’t overnight, it’s still continued to burn pretty hard,” a spokesman said.
Three hundred firefighters are battling the Latrobe fires, while another 200 are battling a large blaze at Branxholme in the state’s western district.
The heatwave in Victoria is draining electricity supplies so much it is leaving the state on the brink of a power meltdown, the Herald Sun reports.
Interstate power is keeping the network alive, but hundreds of thousands of homes were cut off when the Basslink pipe from Tasmania went down at 3.05pm (AEDT) yesterday.
About 18,000 homes around Victoria were still without power at about noon (AEDT) today.
Authorities have not ruled out household restrictions to conserve power. Victoria smashed the power usage record on Wednesday, chewing through 10,300 megawatts.
Consumption neared 10,500MW yesterday as people cranked up air-conditioners to keep cool. The mercury hit 45.8C at Avalon, and even in cooler areas the heat had begun taking a human toll.
More than 35 people were treated in hospital, and ambulance crews had responded to 75 calls for heat-related illness by 5pm yesterday, many of them for the elderly and children.
Some relief is in sight, in the form of a cool sea breeze expected to arrive on Saturday afternoon.