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French Government Seeks Answers to Why So Many Died in Heat Wave
AP ^ | August 26, 2003
French Government Seeks Answers to Why So Many Died in Heat Wave The Associated Press Published: Aug 26, 2003
PARIS (AP) - France's prime minister, facing criticism over the number of deaths in this month's heat wave, planned to meet Tuesday with health experts to study why so many died.
The talks are a first step in government plans to rectify failings in France's widely respected health system that struggled to cope with victims of the country's longest and hottest heat wave.
French President Jacques Chirac has said many victims were elderly people who died alone in their homes.
The biggest chain of undertakers estimated that more than 10,000 people may have died in the heat wave.
The government initially said the staggering estimate was probably correct, but Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin cast doubt on the figure over the weekend, calling recent estimates unreliable. A definitive figure is not expected for weeks.
The meeting Tuesday was to bring the prime minister and his ministers for the aged and for social affairs together with specialists in caring for the elderly.
Opposition parties accused Raffarin's center-right government of doing too little, too late to prevent deaths. They want an investigation - a demand supported Tuesday by Jean-Louis Debre, a leading lawmaker from Raffarin's own party and president of the National Assembly.
August is the traditional month for summer vacation in France, and many have accused families of leaving their elderly relatives at home during the heat wave.
"Everyone's Guilty," said the front-page headline Tuesday of the daily Le Parisien, above a photo of four gray-suited men bearing a coffin.
Paris City Hall employees started working phones Monday to track down relatives of up to 400 unclaimed or abandoned bodies, some being stored temporarily in refrigerated trucks.
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