France heatwave claims 3000 lives

Up to 3000 people may have died in France from the two-week heatwave that has scorched the country.

    France has been scorched by record temperatures

    France's health ministry

    confirmed the toll on Thursday after being accused by

     doctors of

    underestimating the scale of the disaster.

    A statement from the ministry said: "the number of deaths directly or indirectly linked to the heat during this period can be estimated at around 3000 for all of France."

    Health Minister

    Jean-Francois Mattei added:

    "The (death) figures are high, perhaps even very high.... We can

    now talk about what happened as a true epidemic, with everything

    that means in terms of the number of victims."

    Catastrophic

    The acknowledgement followed days of warnings from doctors,

    police and undertakers that bodies had piled up staggeringly quickly 

    in the 40C (104F) temperatures

    .

    "The (death) figures are high, perhaps even very high.... We can

    now talk about what happened as a true epidemic

    "

    Jean-Francois Mattei

    An association of hospital emergency room doctors, AMUHF, said

     on Thursday it estimated at least 2,000 people had died during the

    hot weather.

    "The figures are becoming catastrophic," the head of the

    association, Patrick Pelloux, said.

    "We can talk about thousands of

    victims, even though we can't yet fully measure the phenomenon."

    A hospital workers' union leader, Francois Freisse, said

    even though the heatwave has receded

    heat-stroke victims are still expected in the

    coming days.

    Emergency plan

    He also singled out the government, saying "the authorities

    didn't react immediately when faced with the seriousness of the

    situation."

    Pelloux called on the government to expand nationally an

    emergency medical plan put in place in and around Paris on Wednesday

    .

    The plan provides extra hospital beds and staff, and

    permits temporary morgues to be set up.

    Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin announced the plan after

    city officials and unions raised the alarm.

    Pressure

    But Raffarin brushed aside a call for

    him to resign launched by the opposition Green party.

    He said: "This is not the time for arguments. I feel that I did all what was necessary at the right time."

    However, the pressure is clearly mounting on the government.

    The Liberation newspaper used the one-word headline "massacre"

    on its front page, and lashed the government in an editorial for

    having done "too little, too late."

    It added most ministers have been too reluctant

    to cut short their summer vacations,

    and demanded the

    government give serious thought to global warming, energy

    production and water management.

    SOURCE: AFP


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