Paris Heat Drops, Accusations Stay

A polar bear shakes off water after fresh ice was brought into the pool of the Berlin zoo, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2003 by an ice making company, which donated 20 tons of ice for the bears. Berlin citizens who helped to carry the ice into the empty cage were granted free admittance to the zoo. (AP Photo/Franka Bruns)
Parisians breathed easier as Sahara-like temperatures began to abate Wednesday, although health authorities faced renewed accusations that people died unnecessarily from the heat wave.

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

But Wednesday morning, Paris awoke to temperatures of 73 degrees Fahrenheit, noticeably cooler than record early morning temperatures earlier this week of 77.9 degrees, weather service Meteo France said.

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

But the heat had not lost all its bite. Michel Daloz, a Meteo France forecaster, said the thermometer would hit 95 degrees Fahrenheit in Paris later in the day, down nevertheless from nearly 104-degree heat Tuesday.

Temperatures of 102 and 100 Fahrenheit were forecast for the cities of Lyon in the south and Strasbourg in the east.

While the government's Health Ministry says it has no figures, some medical experts contend the heat wave caused hundreds of deaths — some avoidable. Paris and other regions of France baked for days in temperatures that sometimes topped 104 — agonizing in a country where air conditioning is not widespread.

The surgeon general's office said Paris region mortuaries were full because of "the increase in deaths due to the heat wave."

"In the majority of cases, these were not inevitable natural deaths, but missed chances, that's to say lives that should have been saved in a modern health system," Francois Aubart, head of a Paris region medical trade union, said in an interview with the daily Le Parisien.

"What shocks me is that state representatives did not react after the first deaths were announced," he said.

The government insists that extra beds were put aside to treat victims of heat-related illnesses, and the Defense Ministry said military hospitals took patients from overburdened Paris hospitals.

The Red Cross said it would provide at least 150 volunteers Wednesday to help hospital staff in the Paris region.

The heat caused a power cut in Paris' 12th district that left 1,500 homes without power for about four hours Tuesday night.

The prime minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, said he would travel to European Union headquarters before the end of the month to appeal for financial aid to compensate for damage caused by forest fires in many sun-baked areas of France.