French Heat Wave of 2003

Between August 3 and August 13, temperatures regularly exceeded 40 C (104 F), TF1 reported.

Typically, the temperature in August in Paris is around 23 C (75 F).

August is typically the month the French take vacation. Many health workers have been called back. Others, particularly those who have worked in the country's morgues, are being called out of retirement to help deal with the flood of dead bodies.

Doctors said typically about 30 people a day die in the Paris area. This year, that number has climbed to more than 180 a day.

Weather forecasts predict cooler temperatures in Paris for the next couple of days, with the high Saturday perhaps holding in the mid-20s C (mid-70s F).

Wide areas of France, sweltering in a heatwave, went on high alert Sunday, with memories still strong of a 2003 catastrophe when thousands died, sparking criticism of perceived deficiencies in the way the authorities dealt with the crisis.
Twenty-one regions, covering about a quarter of the country, were put on orange alert -- stage three on a scale of one to four classifying dangerous weather phenomena.

Temperatures rose to over 40C in the first two weeks of the month, leading to an unusually high number of deaths of mainly elderly people and putting a heavy strain on mortuaries and funeral services.

The figures are the first official government tally.

"These are provisional figures, but duty to the truth obliges me to make them public right now," said Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei in a statement.

Estimates by the country's leading undertakers' group have been consistently higher than the government's.

In France, there were 14,802 heat-related deaths (mostly among the elderly) during the heat wave, according to the French National Institute of Health. France does not commonly have very hot summers, particularly in the northern areas, but seven days with temperatures of more than 40 °C (104 °F) were recorded in Auxerre, Yonne between July and August 2003. Because of the usually relatively mild summers, most people did not know how to react to very high temperatures (for instance, with respect to rehydration), and most single-family homes and residential facilities built in the last 50 years were not equipped with air conditioning. Furthermore, while there were contingency plans for a variety of natural and man-made catastrophes, high temperatures had never been considered a major hazard.

The heat wave occurred in August, a month in which many people, including government ministers and physicians, are on holiday. Many bodies were not claimed for many weeks because relatives were on holiday. A refrigerated warehouse outside Paris was used by undertakers as they did not have enough space in their own facilities. On 3 September 2003, fifty-seven bodies still left unclaimed in the Paris area were buried.