Vietnamese in US struggle as heatwave pushes temperatures to record levels

By Dang Khoa, Long Nguyen   July 4, 2021 | 11:00 am GMT+7
Severe weather in the U.S.’s Pacific Northwest, where air conditioners are unpopular, has made the summer a tough one for Vietnamese-Americans.

Last Sunday, Trinh Nguyen, who lives in Portland, decided to sleep in a local park to beat the summer heat.

"Without air conditioners my apartment was like an oven, I could not even breathe," the 31-year-old graduate student says. Her group of friends spent two days "under trees in the park as the heat was too brutal."

The temperature in Portland spiked on Sunday to 112 degrees Fahrenheit (44 degrees Celsius), going past the previous record of 108 set just the day before.

Trinh says a friend’s grandmother died of hyperthermia and some acquaintances had to be hospitalized.

The Vietnamese diaspora on the West Coast is suffering from a heatwave that has broken all records.

A digital sign shows a temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit during the scorching weather of a heatwave in Seattle, June 28, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Jason Redmond.

A digital sign shows a temperature of 109 degrees Fahrenheit during the scorching weather of a heatwave in Seattle, June 28, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Jason Redmond.

Described as unprecedented and life-threatening, it has sent temperatures soaring to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, posing a health threat and disrupting many events.

For many people, especially seniors, the heat has been unbearable.

Linh Nguyen of Bellflower, California, says, "It is so uncomfortable. I have no energy, so going out could be a torture."

The trees in her garden are withering and their leaves keep falling, she says.

"A spike in temperatures leads to concerns about wildfires. We have it in California every year. I am worried it will come early this year."

The lack of air conditioning in many homes in cities such as Portland and Seattle could make an already brutal heatwave even worse.

"I felt like I could not sweat enough to cool my body, then I had a headache, dizziness," Trinh recalls about staying at home with no air conditioners. She says she has never experienced weather like this.

According to 2019 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Seattle has the lowest rate of air-conditioned homes of any major American city: 44 percent. In the Portland metro area, the figure is 79 percent.

This is way behind other big cities. For example, in Washington, D.C., New Orleans, Houston, Atlanta, and Miami, more than 98 percent of homes have air conditioning.

In the last few days, hundreds of heat-related deaths have been reported.

In a typical year, extreme heat is linked to the deaths of around 140 people across the country, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

But 45 of Oregon's recent deaths were in Multnomah County, which includes Portland, alone.

"We need people to check on their neighbors, especially seniors who may need a helping hand," President Joe Biden said on Wednesday at a meeting he held with state and local leaders to discuss the western drought.

The severe weather has also derailed people’s travel plans.

Thanh Do of Brenton had to cancel a trip last Saturday since it was "too hot to go out" as temperatures rose to 105 degrees.

"Later I had an indoor event on Sunday (June 27), but only a few people arrived because they were all scared of the broiling weather."

Isis Givens-Guttierrez, 9, cools off in Georgetown Playfield splash park during a heat wave in Seattle, Washington, U.S., June 26, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Karen Ducey.

Isis Givens-Guttierrez, 9, cools off in Georgetown Playfield splash park during a heat wave in Seattle, Washington, U.S., June 26, 2021. Photo by Reuters/Karen Ducey.

Respite

Many Vietnamese living in the Pacific Northwest, accustomed to chilly and rainy summers, have sought to install air conditioners in their houses.

Thanh, who has air conditioning at home, says many of her friends and colleagues have been desperately hunting for air conditioners.

"Every supermarket and store has run out of air conditioners, and the phones of technicians installing the devices are always busy."

Trinh says she was at a Home Depot store, the largest home improvement retailer in the U.S., to pick up some things on Monday, and saw a sea of people ask about air conditioners.

On a Facebook group of Vietnamese living in Seattle, members ask each other about technicians’ contact details, complaining the weather is too hot to drive without air conditioners.

People cannot stand the heat in their unair-conditioned homes and stay in parks or hotels to escape it.

In Seattle, many people sleep in public parks, Thanh says. Some are even willing to pay $50 to camp overnight in these places.

"But when parks are packed, they sleep in their gardens or in hotels," Thanh says.

Last weekend many Seattle hotels said they were full for the first time since the Covid-19 pandemic began as people without air conditioners took refuge.

Many cities are operating "cooling centers," air-conditioned public spaces set up by local authorities to temporarily deal with the health effects of the heatwave

Forecasters have said temperatures will remain unseasonably hot next week before slowly subsiding.

Six western states remained under heat alerts Thursday, with record temperatures likely from eastern Washington and Oregon to Montana and south into Nevada and northern California, according to CNN.

"I am not afraid of this heatwave since I have experienced hot weather in Vietnam before. But I know without an air conditioner it will be a nightmare," Thanh says.

 
 
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