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Killer Heatwave!

photo: astroland park, coney island

The future looked great - 50 years ago at Coney Island.

Blackout 2OO3

Paris:- Monday, 25. August 2003:- Today's high temperature is forecast to be 28 degrees, but there is a bit of wind from the northeast so it feels cooler. At the height of the summer heatwave around Wednesday, 13. August, the day's low temperature was 25.5 degrees - about 78 F - and there wasn't a breath of wind. High temperatures went above 40 degrees - over 100 F - and the heatwave lasted for weeks.

The 49th parallel runs just to the north of Paris, so this places it on about the same latitude as most of the border between the United States and Canada west of the Great Lakes. In comparison, New York City is on the 41st parallel, and semi-tropical Washington, DC is just below the 39th, somewhat south of Madrid's latitude, and about 215 miles south of France's southernmost point.

Washington DC therefore sits on a latitude about 900 miles south of Paris. On the day after the hottest night of the year in Paris since records have been kept, the Washington Post published an unsigned editorial titled, 'Can't Stand the Heat?'

It wondered what all the fuss was about, mentioning that everybody who could find one, was buying an electric fan. Afterphoto: sidewalk skelton, paris agreeing that temperatures had been in the 90s and at times topped the 100 F mark, the editorial writer wondered if Europeans might not 'wax nostalgic' for customary summer rain.

It continued, noting that Washington's temperatures in the 80s were a bit below average, but noted that highs of 100 F are common in Texas and nobody there thinks there's anything extraordinary about it.

Seen on a sidewalk on the way to the club meeting last Thursday.

Then a bit of free advice was generously offered. It said Europeans should stop 'turning up noses' at American inventions such as windows that don't open on account of arctic-like air-conditioning, and restaurants serving free tall glasses of water filled 'to the brim' with ice.

A few days earlier, on Monday, 11. August, a public health watchdog unit sent an email to France's minister of health who was on holiday in the Var ragion in the south of France, saying that there had been some heat-related deaths, but the situation was under control.

This was a day after the president of hospital emergency services in the Ile-de-France region stated that there was a 'slaughter' going on, with 50 deaths within the past four days.

On the same Monday, 11. August, the head of the health watchdog unit was informed by the Paris undertakers association that mortuarys were saturated. That evening, the Minister for Health, Jean-François Mattei, was interviewed on TF1-TV evening news at his holiday home in the Var, wearing a polo shirt.

He merely informed French viewers of the creation of a toll-free number to call, that would provide advice about preventative measures residents could use to combat the heatwave.

The following day, the president of hospital emergency services in the Ile-de-France region announced that there were more than 100 victims of the heatwave. The Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, continued his alpine holidays. However, in the evening the minister of health announced the mobilisation of the Croix Rouge, and the freeing up of some military hospital beds near Paris.

On Wednesday, 13. August, the minister of health moved off square one and made an personal inspection of thesign: bad things happen Saint-Andre hospital in Bordeaux, which had registered 20 deaths. Attacked verbally by hospital emergency staff, he admitted that some deaths might have been caused by overflowing emergency wards.

In the evening, the country's general director of health, Lucien Abenhaim, returned from his vacation to hold a crises meeting. Mention was first made of 3000 deaths in France. At the same time, the Prime Minister ordered an 'emergency plan' to be carried out by hospitals in the Ile-de-France region.

Sign seen in Manhattan, long before the 14. August blackout.

On Thursday, 14. August, the Elysée Palace let it be known via the AFP agency that Président Jacques Chirac, on holiday in Quebec, was in permanent contact with the Prime Minister - who chose this day to return to Paris to hold his own crises meeting.

In its editions, the daily newspaper Le Parisien estimated the heat-related deaths in the Ile-de-France region alone were 2000. The head of retirement homes in France called for the unfreeze of 103 million euros, budgeted in 2003 for improvements. This was also the day that the government finally decided that there was some urgency, and declared a plan for it - two weeks after the beginning of the heatwave.

On Sunday, 17. August, the watchdog public health unit estimated the deaths at 3000 for all France. The minister of health's estimate was between 1500 and 3000. A day later, 5000 deaths seemed 'plausible' to the same minister of health. Between the first and 19. August, some newspapers ran double the usual number of death notices.

France's président, Jacques Chirac, returned from Canada on Wednesday, 20. August, and presided over a morning meeting of the council of ministers at the Elysée Palace, with an agenda devoted almost exclusively to the effects of the heatwave and government reactions to it.

In the evening, on France-2 TV-news, a spokesman for the undertakers in France estimated an extra 10,000 deaths, for a total of 13,632 throughout the country. This added up to 36 percent more deaths than normal for France, and 64 percent more in the Ile-de-France region.

The président spoke on TV on Thursday night, 21. August, and praised the hospital emergency services, nurses everywhere, and the Croix Rouge.

Paris mayor, Bertrand Delanoë, toured city hospitals and promised that their larger rooms would be air-conditioned. Some hospitals have been in service since before the révolution. There are more than 400,000 people aged over 65 living in Paris.

In Paris there are about 300 bodies still unclaimed by relatives, but social workers are trying to contact them. Normally corpses can be kept for six days before burial, but this has been extended to ten days. There are 130 additional bodies being kept in refrigerated trucks parked in Ivry just outside the city.

Already the unclaimed who have gone over the ten-day limit are being buried by the city at its cemetery at Thiais. If relatives do turn up later, the bodies can be exhumed and moved to permanent graves.

I have not been able to find any trace of the quote attributed to France's Prime Minister, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, that I read a week ago in the New York Times. He is alleged to have said that the deaths were the fault of the French, who abandoned their old folks, to go on annual holidays.

The undertakers have said that 50 percent died in retirement homes, 30 percent in hospitals, and 20 percent at hom. The headphoto: bus under the el, queens of hospital coordination said many died at home because they were released from hospitals too soon, to make way for new admissions. Paris social workers have said some of the aged have no families.

Non-MTA bus cruising under the elevated subway '7' line in Queens.
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