UPDATE: Heat wave death toll reaches 18 in Quebec

The death toll of Quebec's recent heat wave is up to 18, according to data released by the CIUSS on Wednesday evening.

Mylene Drouin, the Montreal Regional Director of Public Health, confirmed the deaths were due to heat. She said on Tuesday that Urgences-Sante had reported a 30 per cent rise in ambulance transports since the beginning of the heat wave, up to about 1,200 per day. Drouin said the increase matches that seen during similar weather in 2010.

“At the moment, it fits exactly with the features we’ve described: people with chronic diseases, mental health issues, people who live alone, people without air conditioning who live in apartments of more than four or six stories and obviously, in areas where there is lots of heat,” she said. “These are the same criteria that’s used with our partners who are going door to door.”

Families of some patients in Montreal's hospitals have spoken out, saying that not all hospital floors in the city are air conditioned. Drouin laid out some guidelines for concerned family members of hospitalized patients.

"We ask people to take the patients out of their rooms at least two times a day for two hours," she said. "There are places that have air conditioning in each hospital and we ask them to give them water and towels (dunked in) cold water."

Montreal’s civil services have announced the introduction of measures aimed at ensuring the well-being and safety of residents, including a door-to-door operation designed to reach at-risk people and to provide prevention advice in certain areas.

An emergency coordination centre has been activated to supervise those measures and Montreal Mayor Valerie Plante has called on Montrealers to show solidarity with at-risk people.

Premier Philippe Couillard praised the work of public health officials.

“It’s tragic, but whenever there are heat waves like this, and we will have more heat than before because of changes to the climate, the people who are weakened and vulnerable are the most affected,” he said. “Public health services, especially in Montreal, have things in hand. It must be verified that our elderly, especially, are well-hydrated, have access to places that are air conditioned, even if it’s temporary.”

Couillard noted that the weather is expected to cool down by Friday but “we expect to have this kind of episode every year.”

Along with the deaths in Montreal, four deaths are under investigation in the Estrie region to determine if they are related to the extreme temperatures, according to authorities.