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French heat toll tops 11,000

Victims were mainly the elderly, who suffered from dehydration and hyperthermia.
Victims were mainly the elderly, who suffered from dehydration and hyperthermia.

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Should the French health minister resign over the government's handling of the heat wave?

PARIS, France -- France recorded 11,435 extra deaths during a heat wave in the first two weeks of August when temperatures soared over 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit), according to officials.

Giving preliminary figures, the Health Ministry said Friday that the extra deaths related to the period August 1 to 15 compared to the same period in the previous year.

The ministry said the latest figures were in line with those being compiled by a special government commission set up in response to public anxiety over the death toll in a country whose health service is vaunted as a world beater.

France's leading undertaker had said earlier this month it believed an additional 10,400 people had died in the first three weeks of the heat wave compared to normal.

However, officials at the French funeral directors association put the toll at about 13,000 deaths Friday.

The government was criticized for failing to react fast enough to the crisis, during which hospitals were swamped with people, especially the elderly, suffering from dehydration and hyperthermia.

The country's top health official has resigned but Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei has so far refused calls to step down.

Many bodies remain unclaimed and have been buried in pauper's graves by the authorities as a temporary measure.

France, which normally has temperatures in the upper 20s C (80s F) was hit with temperatures in the upper 30s C (90s to over 100F) during the first three weeks of August.

After the first week of the heat wave, French officials, many of whom had been on vacation, rushed back to work. The death toll soared by 3,000 in that week.

The government did not declare an emergency until a week into a nine-day desert-like weather pattern across France earlier this month.

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