Fri, Aug 15, 2003 - Page 7 News List

France's heat wave abates

HEATED ACCUSATIONS Health authorities in Paris were berated for a `slow response' that caused the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of people caused by the extreme heat

AP , PARIS

About 3,000 people have died in France of heat-related causes since abnormally high temperatures swept across the country about two weeks ago, the health ministry said yesterday.

"The number of deaths linked directly or indirectly to the heat ... can be estimated at around 3,000 for the whole of France," the ministry said in a statement.

But Parisians breathed easier as Sahara-like temperatures began to abate on Wednesday, although health authorities faced renewed accusations that people died unnecessarily from the heat wave.

The director general of Paris' hospitals authority, Rose-Marie van Lerberghe, said "a little over 100" people died in the capital since last Friday because of baking heat.

But on Wednesday morning, Paris awoke to temperatures of 23?C, noticeably cooler than record early morning heat of 25.5?C registered at the start of the week, weather service Meteo France said.

"The air's less heavy. There's a small breeze for the first time," said Mrs. Chida, a woman in her 70s who ventured out for morning errands. "Today I've been able to get to the bank."

Britain felt the relief of cooler weather on Wednesday following record-breaking temperatures.

It was warm in London and the southeast, with temperatures ranging from 25?C to 28?C. But that was a refreshing change compared to Sunday, when the nation recorded its hottest day ever -- 38.1?C at Gravesend in southern England.

Temperatures remained high in Switzerland on Wednesday, with forecasters saying the Swiss would have to wait another day before the thermometer starts to drop. The temperature in the capital Bern reached 37?C, the hottest day there since 1865.

It remained in the high 30?Cs across Germany on Wednesday, with a record high temperature overnight of 27.6?C measured in Neutstadt, in southern Germany.

Forecasters are predicting a drop in temperatures of up to 8?C by the weekend, with winds bringing cooling air in some regions. Despite thunderstorms and showers forecast in the north, officials say there is still no end to the dry spell that has made forests particularly susceptible to fires.

Wednesday was so far the warmest day in Austria this year with temperatures of almost 39?C. The Vienna meteorological institute said temperatures will ease today.

The temperature in the Romanian capital, Bucharest, reached 32?C on Wednesday but are expected to drop as of Sunday, with hail storms and cool weather to come.

Meteo France forecaster Michel Daloz said the thermometer climbed toward 32?C in Paris by early Wednesday afternoon.

The fortified city of Carcassone in the south roasted in 41?C heat, while the Rhone Valley registered 39?C, Daloz said. The heat has prompted winemakers in some areas to begin harvesting their grapes early.

On Wednesday, days after the first complaints accusing the French government of a slow response to heat-related deaths, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin asked the Paris region to launch an emergency hospital plan to provide for a massive influx of patients.

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