Jason Berry, a spokesman for Maricopa County, confirmed the arrival of the refrigerated morgues last week. He explained that although the medical examiner's office can accommodate 224 bodies and extend the limit to 358 bodies, the number of heat-associated deaths this year has been particularly high. As of now, 25 heat-related deaths have been recorded, while investigations are still ongoing for 249 cases.
"While we typically see a surge in intakes to the Office of the Medical Examiner in July, this year has been worse than prior years. Right now, we're between standard capacity and surge capacity, so we thought it would be prudent to bring in the refrigerated containers as a precaution," Berry stated as he talked about the urgency of the situation.
The victims were predominantly older people, with 32 percent of them being 75 years or older. The medical examiner's office said those brought in for examination are typically heat-related fatalities. It is also suspected that some of the deceased may have been homeless and hikers venturing out ill-prepared for the extreme temperatures. (Related: Heat-related deaths are mounting each summer in Europe.)
This is not the first time Phoenix has utilized cooling trailers to manage an overwhelming situation. During the summer of 2020, similar measures were implemented when the city was grappling with a surge in Wuhan coronavirus (COVID-19) cases.
Phoenix is not alone in facing this challenge. Other cities, such as New York, have also been forced to take similar measures due to overcrowded morgues and funeral homes.
PJM Interconnection, the largest electric grid operator in the U.S., has issued a level one emergency alert due to extreme heat. The company, which serves over 65 million customers across 13 states in the Midwest and Northeast, now lacks the ability to provide enough electricity and meet the increasing demand caused by heatwaves.
In New York City, energy delivery company Con Edison sent out a text blast urging residents to conserve electricity and be frugal with their air conditioning usage. The California Independent System Operator also declared an energy emergency alert due to the sweltering conditions in Southern California.
On July 26, PJM Interconnection declared the level one energy emergency alert for its 13-state grid. PJM spokesperson Jeffrey Shields said the company currently has enough generation to meet forecast demand, but they are closely monitoring the grid conditions for any changes. (Related: Power company takes over smart thermostats during heatwave in Colorado.)
The situation is worsened by the fact that Americans are relying heavily on air conditioning to cool off from the scorching heat. PJM executives said they have reserve capacity to meet additional demand, but they are concerned about meeting contingency reserves required during times of exceptionally high demand. If the network surpasses its capacity, millions of customers could face the threat of blackouts.
Watch this video and learn how to survive a heatwave.