July 27, 2006

France counts toll of heatwave as weather cools

By Francois Murphy

PARIS (Reuters) - Overnight storms in France brought
welcome relief on Thursday from a heatwave that killed 64
people and which provided the first real test of new measures
aimed at preventing the mass deaths of three summers ago.

Temperatures however remained high in other European

Thunder, lightning and heavy showers swept across France
from west to east, knocking down sweltering temperatures and
bringing an end to a over a week of unusually hot weather.

This year's heatwave was neither as hot nor as deadly as
2003's, in which 15,000 people died but it still put France's
health system to the test.

The Institute of Health Surveillance said hospitals coped
well with the influx of mainly elderly people in need of
treatment for heat-related ailments.

"There was no malfunction, there was no saturation of the
system," Gilles Bruecker, director of the institute told a news
conference, adding that there was no mass transfer of old
people from retirement homes to hospitals as there had been in

After the heatwave of 2003, France boosted measures to
protect vulnerable groups, particularly the elderly, during
unusually hot weather. This summer it issued advertisements
advising the public to drink water and stay in cool places.

"We were not ready in 2003. That is obvious," Bruecker

Of the 64 deaths caused directly or indirectly by this
heatwave, 40 were people over 75 years of age, although
Bruecker said it was not always easy to say whether the unusual
heat was responsible for their deaths.

Maximum temperatures on Thursday fell well below 30 Celsius
(86 F) in many places where they had been in the low to mid-30s
for a week. Forecasters said temperatures should remain closer
to normal levels over the coming days.

In Spain, the heat brought a plague of jellyfish to
country's eastern seashores, forcing holidaymakers to stay out
of the sea, the Red Cross said.

The unwelcome visitors, which can reach the size of a
dinner plate, have flourished thanks to a glut of plankton
brought on by higher sea temperatures and a decline in natural
predators like dolphins and turtles.

A power cut hit part of central London as faults and hot
weather forced a supplier to cut off thousands of customers.

Lack of rain has also damaged crops. Drought caused Italian
farmers losses of some 500 million euros ($637 million) so far
this year, hitting rice and maize producers in the north
particularly hard, the main industry body said.

(Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Paris, Sonya
Dowsett in Madrid and Sophie Hardach in Milan)