French Heatwave Toll At
More Than 11,400 Dead

(AFP) -- More than 11,400 people died during a record-breaking heatwave during the first half of August, the French government said in its first official death toll from the disaster widely seen as mishandled by top ministers.
Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei, who has been the target of most of the criticism, said in a statement that 11,435 more deaths than normal were registered August 1-15, when daily temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and above roasted the country.
"These are provisional figures, but duty to the truth obliges me to make them public right now," Mattei said, adding: "The human tragedy linked to the heatwave hit the most vulnerable in our society ... I wish to express to their families and loved ones my deepest sympathies."
The official death toll drew exclamations of shock from doctors, unions and opposition politicians.
"More than 11,000 dead is four times (the number killed September 11, 2001 at) the World Trade Center," said Pascal Champvert, head of the Adepha association of nursing home directors.
"And it's certain there will be more, because elderly people were considerably weakened, and the deaths in the days and weeks to come will certainly be due to the heatwave," he said.
Francois Aubart, the president of the CMH hospital doctors' union, called the toll "an unprecedented catastrophe".
The toll again focused criticism on the government, which has been accused of playing down early warnings of piles of bodies until it became clear that morgues were overflowing and refrigerated trucks and a warehouse had to be requisitioned to store the corpses temporarily.
It was only as temperatures started to drop on August 14 that Paris implemented a national disaster plan, recalling hospital workers and taking other measures to cope with the waves of patient admissions.
Officials had avoided giving a toll until Friday, but France's biggest chain of undertakers, the Pompes Funebres Generales, last week estimated the toll at 10,400 for the first three weeks of August and 13,000 for the whole of the month.
The interior ministry had said its own figures showed the number of heatwave deaths to be under 10,000 but did not give a more specific toll.
The head of the union of hospital emergency doctors that first sounded the alarm, Patrick Pelloux, told AFP Thursday that patients were still dying from the effects of the heat.
He said that "we don't want the consequences of this heatwave to be a macabre number, but rather an opportunity to truly understand the difficulties in the health and social networks, and to ensure that resources aren't forgotten" in public hospitals.
Mattei, who has fended off calls to step down over his handling of the disaster, pledged to revise his ministry's actions during the heatwave and make necessary changes.
On August 18, France's surgeon-general, Lucien Abenhaim, resigned over the row, but he later told media he felt he was a scapegoat.
"I didn't accept responsibility for what happened. I resigned because the minister of health was talking to the radios and saying that he hadn't been informed or alerted... but he had been alerted," he told BBC radio on Wednesday.
France has been in a state of shock in the heatwave's aftermath as up to 400 bodies remained unclaimed in makeshift morgues outside Paris, while a team of 100 city workers raced to locate relatives of the dead.
Copyright © 2002 AFP. All rights reserved. All information displayed in this section (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the contents of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presses.



This Site Served by TheHostPros