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Bodies unclaimed in France's heat

Coffin
A funeral home worker builds a coffin as morgues overflow with bodies from the heat wave.

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PARIS, France -- Hundreds of bodies remain unclaimed from a heat wave that killed thousands of people in France, Paris officials say.

Officials said the city would form a crisis team Monday to reach out to relatives of the dead to aid in identifying the bodies, as they assured Parisians there would be no mass graves.

Government officials are to meet Tuesday with representatives of nursing homes, whose residents were particularly hard hit by the August 4-13 heat wave. The homes are seeking emergency funds for fans and air conditioners.

On Sunday, with morgues full, nine trucks containing bodies of people who died in the heat were being held at a city depot about two miles south of Paris, a police spokesman said.

The French funeral directors association said 10,416 people died during the first three weeks of August because of the heat wave.

It projected the death toll for the month from the heat wave would be 13,632.

The French Interior Ministry has estimated the number of heat wave deaths would be "less than 10,000."

City officials have organized temporary burials in paupers' graves to relieve pressure on their overburdened funeral services, Reuters reported.

Jean-Paul Proust, chief of police for Paris, said the city would bury all corpses left unclaimed for 10 days according to the normal procedures for paupers.

"These corpses will not be buried in a common grave," Reuters quoted him as saying, as he denied a local press report that unclaimed bodies would be dumped into secret mass graves.

Special concrete-lined graves would be marked, and families could have the caskets exhumed for a proper reburial elsewhere at a later time, he said.

The daily Le Parisien reported 50 corpses were buried this way in the paupers' section of a large cemetery in eastern Paris on Saturday and more were due to be interred on Sunday, Reuters said.

The heat wave showed the vulnerability of France's elderly.
The heat wave showed the vulnerability of France's elderly.

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe defended the burial plan, saying the corpses could not remain in refrigerated morgue chambers indefinitely.

"I want them to have the decent grave that they deserve," Reuters quoted him as saying.

The French government has come under increasing criticism for its handling of the crisis.

Last week, Lucien Abenhaim, France's director general of health, stepped down amid calls for the resignation of his boss, Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei.

France, which normally has temperatures in the upper 20s Celsius (80s Fahrenheit) was hit with temperatures in the upper 30s C (90s to more than 100 F).

CNN Correspondent Chris Burns contributed to this report


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