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Heat crisis in French hospitals

Inflatable refrigerated tents are being used to house the dead.

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PARIS, France -- Morgues and funeral homes in France are overrun with bodies as the country struggles to cope with an estimated 3,000 people who died of heat-related causes in the past two weeks.

Government officials, including Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin and Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei, held an emergency meeting Thursday to discuss ways of dealing with what Mattei has described as a "veritable epidemic" of deaths.

A "Plan Blanc" or "White Plan" has been put into action, with doctors and nurses being recalled from leave, some morgue workers called out of retirement, and further 1,000 hospital beds being made available from Friday.

The head of the doctors' emergency association, Patrick Pelloux told The Associated Press that some hospitals requisitioned kitchen refrigerators to hold the dead, while others put up tents to keep corpses before burial.

A morgue in Longjumeau, a suburb south of Paris, rented an air-conditioned tent to house twice as many corpses.

General Funeral Services, France's largest undertaker, said it handled some 3,230 deaths from August 6 to 12, compared to 2,300 on an average week -- a 37 percent jump.

Family members of victims lashed out at the government.

Martine Flou's 70-year-old mother's body had to be brought to a morgue in Paris from their home 50 miles away because there was no space there.

"It's scandalous. The government has done nothing," she told AP.

Some officials said one problem is that the country all but shuts down in August, when many French go on vacation. Hospital services in cities are curtailed and many families leave their elderly relatives at home.

A law limiting France's work week to 35 hours left medical centers and retirement homes doubly short-staffed.

Germany and Italy have not issued figures on heat-related deaths, saying such figures are difficult to come by because heat may be just one factor contributing to a person's death.

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.

If the preliminary French figures hold up, the heat-related death toll would be among the highest in recent years, officials at the World Health Organization in Geneva said.

Coffins are lined up at the Villetaneuse cemetery outside Paris.

About 2,600 heat-related deaths were recorded in India five years ago, and roughly 500 people died from heat-related causes in 1995 in Chicago, according to WHO experts.

This year's heat wave is France's worst ever on record, said Patrick Galois, a forecaster for national weather service Meteo France.

Meteo France said the worst of the heat wave was probably over, with no part of the country reporting temperatures above 35 Celsius (95 Fahrenheit) on Thursday.

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).

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