The heat wave that has enveloped much of Central and Eastern Canada has contributed to at least 33 deaths in Quebec.

“We’re doing the best that we can do,” Quebec’s Public Health Minister Lucie Charlebois said at a press conference Thursday. “You know, we’re living something special. In French we say, ‘C'est une situation exceptionnelle.’”

With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, Environment Canada heat warnings have been in effect for large swathes of Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia for much of the past week. The extreme heat is expected to finally abate this evening.

The 33 Quebec deaths include 18 in Montreal.

According Dr. Mylene Drouin, regional director of Montreal's public health department, those who died were predominantly men aged 53 to 85 who lived alone and without air conditioning.

“First they have heat stroke, but most of the people who die, they are vulnerable,” Drouin told CTV Montreal. “Or (they have) problems with drugs, or they are intoxicated. So first, they’re dehydrated.”

Those living in poorer areas with less vegetation have been suffering the most during the heat wave, Drouin added during a press conference.

“In the centre of the city where we have more hot spots, where there is less greener areas, we know that compared to what is measured at the meteorological station, we can have a difference of five to 10 degrees,” she explained.

Emergency services increased

This is not the first time that Quebec has experienced such deadly heat, with more than 100 people dying during another heat wave in 2010.

“I’m not pleased about that,” Charlebois said of her province’s current crisis. “I would not like my mother to die because it’s too hot today.”

To deal with the heat wave, Urgences-sante, Montreal’s emergency medical service, has placed nine additional ambulances on the roads to respond to a 30 per cent spike in calls. At the ongoing Montreal International Jazz Festival, which runs until July 7, the number of on-scene paramedics has been doubled.

Firefighters, meanwhile, have been going door-to-door to check on at-risk people. Such people, Drouin explained, are those with “chronic diseases, mental health issues, people who live alone, (and) people without air conditioning who live in apartments of more than four or six stories.”

Public health officials are also encouraging Montrealers to check on their neighbours, especially if they are elderly.

"I'm satisfied with the work that has been done to help those who are most vulnerable," Drouin said.

Hot hospitals

Although none of the reported heat-related deaths have occurred at hospitals or long-term care homes, families of patients at facilities like the Sacre-Cœur Hosptal in Montreal are decrying “inhumane” conditions that are seeing their loved ones swelter in rooms that lack air conditioning.

"They're suffering and they're going to be suffering more if there's no air conditioning," Effie Tsatoumas, whose mother is being treated for pneumonia, told CTV Montreal.

According to Tsatoumas, her family was barred by security from bringing a portable air conditioner into her mother’s room.

"I don't understand, for elderly people to have no air conditioning in the state they're in," she said. "I'm healthy and I had a hard time breathing in there."

After suffering from dehydration and going into cardiac arrest, Tsatoumas said her mother was finally moved into the hospital’s intensive care unit -- one of the few parts of the facility that has air conditioning.

"All of our electrical panels are fully loaded, so we have only the essentials for patient care,” Frederic Cossette, the hospital’s director of technical services, said of the aging hospital building. "We're not able to upgrade it now and have enough power to have A/C in all our rooms."

For the remainder of the heat wave, Drouin is advising that patients without air conditioning be taken out of their rooms at least twice a day for two hours.

"There are places that have air conditioning in each hospital and we ask them to give them water and towels (dunked in) cold water,” she said.

Rain and relief

The past week has seen some of the hottest temperatures ever recorded in Montreal, said Environment Canada meteorologist Alexandre Parent.

“Having a span of seven days with maximum of above 31 Celsius for Montreal area, I mean this is pretty exceptional,” Parent told CTV Montreal. “Usually these kinds of heat waves, they last for three, four, five days.”

Overnight thunderstorms are expected to finally cool the region down. And although temperatures are forecasted to rise again next week, the weather will likely be much more tolerable.

“There won't be humidity in the air as we have experienced,” Parent explained. “So the humidex index is not going to be a factor.”

Despite experiencing similarly scorching temperatures, other provinces in Central and Eastern Canada have not reported heat-related fatalities, though The Canadian Press suggests that that may be due varying jurisdictional practices in gathering such data.

With a report from CTV Montreal’s Kelly Greig and files from The Canadian Press