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L.A. Times: California underreported heat-related deaths for years

Posted at 7:43 AM, Nov 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-11-04 10:43:09-04

(KERO) — During a year long Los Angeles Times investigation into extreme heat, journalists found gaps in state and federal tracking efforts.

Reporter Tony Barboza says during the summer of 2020, California saw two of the biggest heat waves in at least 15 years.

He says during the investigation state officials were asked about the death toll related to extreme heat.

"We were kind of surprised to learn that California authorities and public health department basically couldn't tell us how many people had died which was pretty shocking to us given what we know about the death toll of other disasters like wildfires, floods and hurricanes," said Barboza.

Staff found the state was undercounting deaths from heat for a long time.

Records showed 599 deaths had been attributed to heat over a 10 year period between 2010 to 2019 but other findings said something different.

"Our analysis showed that in reality the true death toll was about 3,900 deaths, it's about 6 times higher than the official count," said Anna Phillips, L.A. Times environmental policy reporter.

Phillips says California state officials also ignored warnings about the risks of extreme heat.