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France Heat Wave Death Toll at 15,000

September 9, 2003

PARIS (AP) _ An estimated 15,000 people died in France’s scorching heat wave last month, the country’s largest undertaker said Tuesday, surpassing the official government estimate of 11,435.

Isabelle Dubois-Costes, a spokeswoman from General Funeral Services, said the updated estimate included deaths in the second half of August, after record-breaking temperatures had abated.

The new estimate came after the government on Monday released a report blaming the deaths on hospital understaffing, bureaucratic delays and insufficient care for the elderly.

The government late last month released an official estimate of 11,435, but the Health Surveillance Institute said on Tuesday that those numbers were based on deaths only in the first half of August.

The institute said it would release an estimate of deaths for all of August at the end of this month.

The new figures could put even more pressure on the government to correct snags in its highly respected health system and increase outrage over the staggering death toll.

The heat wave brought suffocating temperatures of up to 104 Fahrenheit in the first two weeks of August in a country where air conditioning is rare. The heat baked many parts of Europe, killing livestock and fanning forest fires.

The high death toll has triggered an angry debate in France over shortcomings of the health system. The government is considering eliminating a national holiday to raise revenues for elderly care.

The French lifestyle has also come under scrutiny, since some of the elderly victims died alone in their homes while families were away on lengthy August vacations. Authorities reportedly had difficulties reaching survivors who were away.

Update hourly