Europe Swelters And Suffers

A woman who wished to remain unidentified holds a wet towel over her head as she is brought by firefighters to the Saint Antoine hospital in Paris, Monday, Aug. 11, 2003. About 50 people have reportedly died of heat-related illnesses over the past four days in the Paris region, which has baked under temperatures at or exceeding 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Farenheit).
As the heat wave continued in Paris on Tuesday, experts and government officials debated about how many deaths can be attributed to the record high temperatures. Doctors, overwhelmed by the amount of work, asked the military health services for help.

Throughout Europe, authorities count at least 45 heat-related deaths, the latest occurring in Spain, where five people died Monday while fleeing a forest fire.

Adding to that, one French medical expert said at least 50 Parisians have died of heat-related illnesses - a claim that if proven would double the number of deaths blamed on overwhelming heat wave that has assaulted France and most of the rest of Europe for almost two weeks now.

Patrick Pelloux, the head of France's emergency hospital physicians' association, insisted scores of deaths were going uncounted in the Paris region and accused the government of failing to deal with a silent health crisis.

"They dare to talk about ... natural deaths. I absolutely do not agree with that," Pelloux told TF1 television late Sunday.

Doctors in the Paris region say they are unable to find beds for the ongoing flow of arrivals, and accuse the government for failing to act faster to remedy the situation.

The government has challenged the doctors' figures, and said it is often not clear whether people admitted to the hospital were suffering only from heat or from other ailments.

Still, funeral directors say demand for their services has risen sharply since the heat wave took hold. Les Pompes funebres generales, France's largest undertaker, said it has handled 50 percent more bodies in Paris, a company spokesman said. He noted the increase was "tied to the heat wave."

Most of the victims are old people, many of whom are simply not drinking enough water and get dehydrated in a matter of hours. The heat also has an immediate impact on the nervous system of those suffering from age-related ailments, and accelerates the degradation of their already frail clinical conditions.

On Tuesday, France's power company asked people to use less electricity as some plants were forced to cut output during the Europe-wide heat wave that has fanned wildfires and killed dozens of people.

With river temperatures hitting record highs, some plants that use water in production are cutting back, and six have stopped altogether. Plants are constrained by regulations limiting the amount of hot water they can discharge into rivers.

"We are mobilizing all possible means to develop production," Francois Roussely, chairman of power giant EDF, told RTL radio. "The biggest danger would be to lose electricity."

The heat has hovered at around 100 degrees in many countries for days. In some places, it broke records.

The Italian Meteorological Society said the city of Turin hit 107 degrees Monday — hotter than any day over the 250 years that temperatures have been recorded there.

Throughout Europe, authorities counted at least 45 heat-related deaths, the latest occurring in Spain, where five people died Monday while fleeing a forest fire.

Not even the Nordic countries have been spared. Temperatures in Denmark 89.6 degrees over the weekend.

Wildfires have blackened forests in Italy, France, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Croatia and the Netherlands.