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Heat wave in Paris, August 2003.
[ Paris, August 10,2003 ]
Today August 10, the sun has been shining for several days and the
summer seems to settle durably on Paris.
August in Paris is always an exceptional moment, moment or the city
empties its inhabitants to leave the place to the tourists, with calms
and the relaxation which accompany the holidays.
It is also time or the inhabitants find a vaguely human character of
attention and glance towards the other, illustrated in film of Pierre
Granier-Deferre or the song of Charles Aznavour in "Paris in August".
It is also the time of the long walks without goals no destinations,
just to see the city, its coffees with terrace and its inhabitants...
My walk started in front of the town hall of Paris to see "Paris
Plage" and the bank roads transformed into artificial beaches, of the
quay of Tuileries to the quay Henri IV, then going up the boulevard
Sébastopol and Magenta, I passed to Barbès Rochechouart. I went along
the Barbès Boulevard, crossed the Pigalle place, and descended the
street Pigalle in direction from the place of Concorde and his famous
fountain of the rivers from 1840.
Then, I went along the Seine and am directed to me towards Trocadéro
and its basin refitted after the World Fair of 1937, equipped with its
battery of very powerful water jets (5700 liters by second) placed in
its top and supplemented by a double line of water jets aligned on
Throughout this walk, the crushing heat of the city seemed
irresistibly to soften the strict social organization of the city, the
lawns and fountains accommodated here and there, of the children, of
the adults, wearing of bathing suits, shorts, slipways held unusual of
very Parisian elegance...
The many laws and prohibitions of the parks did not seem any more to
have any effect or application front of the rise of the thermometer,
the townsmen sought freshness at all costs, each fountain was
transformed into bath of feet, in public swimming pool...
I continued my course in direction of the André Citroen park, the most
significant Parisian creation of park since the Second Empire,
organized in a vast rectangle (of 320 X 130 m) perpendicular to the
Seine, containing 25 fountains, 8 greenhouses and 1 hectare of water,
to finish to the place of the châtelet front of the Fountain of the
Palm tree, decorated with horns of plenty carved by Louis Simon Boizot
and decorated his four sphinx.
The unconcern of the holidays, the joy of the children playing in
water, the dynamism of the young people crossed during this day and
the silence of the media did not let anything appear drama which was
achieved silently in the city.
Indeed, in Paris, the temperature exceeded the 39°C, with 9 days of
temperatures higher than 35ºC.
The records of average estival temperatures of 1922 and 1976 were
beaten. A night temperature record is reached in Paris in the night
from the 10 to August 11: 25,5°C. According to Météo France, "this
period of heat wave exceeds all by far that was known since 1873
(first weather statements) by its intensity and its length, as well on
the level of the minimal, maximum temperatures as average".
This heat wave, according to estimates' of the epidemiologists of
Inserm, would have been responsible for almost 15 000 deaths during
The surmortality due to the heat wave is estimated by the researchers
of Inserm at 14 800 deaths between the first to August 20, is 55% of
more than the number of deaths awaited over this period. Paid to 540
000 the one year deaths on the metropolitan territory, this
surmortality represents two months of life lost for the whole of the
French population and the first retreat recorded since the beginning
of the thirty glorious ones.
The report specifies in addition that the surmortality indeed was
"synchronous with the period of heat wave". It brings as precise
details on the typology of the victims and confirms as they are the
old people of more than 75 years which underwent the consequences of
strong heats the most. They represent 70 % of the deaths. Women (60%)
were more touched that the men (40 %). And it is in Ile-de-France and
in the Center that the surmortality was most significant (respectively
130 % and 100 %).
Hospitals, the urgencies and the death chambers were quickly
saturated, significant heat not allowing to preserve bodies in a not
cooled part. A cooled hangar of the Rungis's market, logistic carriage
center of agro-alimentary in the Parisian suburbs, was placed at the
disposal in order to store the bodies temporarily there. At the date
of August 24, in Paris area, they are still 300 bodies not claimed by
the families which await a burial with Rungis and in trucks
refrigerated in Ivry-sur-Seine.
The services are long in becoming aware of the human drama that the
heat wave is causing. The first alarms are launched by the persons in
charge for the emergency services in the hospitals which are seen
overflowed. Whereas the heat wave grows blurred after August 15, the
French authorities are pointed finger for the slowness of the startup
of the emergency plan: the white plan.
The general manager of health, Lucien Abenhaïm, resigns.
The president of the Republic, Jacques Chirac, whose silence is
criticized by the opposition, expresses himself two weeks after the
end of the crisis, with his return of holidays. He denies the
responsibility for the executive in the tragedy and underlines the
lack of solidarity between citizens, deploring the degradation of the
social bond, in particular towards the old people. The president
announces in particular a revision of the services of prevention and
alarm, as well as organizations first-aid and emergency.
The medical and care world answer in a general way by refuting
simplification and the deresponsabilisation.
The tragic extent of the events of the summer 2003 set questions on
the French society and its political organization, which in Europe, is
the only one to have known such a heavy human assessment.
The extent of the medical catastrophe caused in France by the heat
wave is much more significant than in the other European countries
however them so touched by strong heats. It put at the day a whole of
dysfunctions in the system of French health. It also caused a polemic
on the capacity of the political leaders to evaluate the emergencies
of this type and to react to take adequate measurements.
It reveals a political and organisational crisis significant revealing
the weaknesses of the dialogue between the ministry for the interior
Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy and the social ministries of Mr. François Fillon.
- Bulk-headings suitable for the ministry for health.
- The weaknesses of the dialogue between the interior's ministry and
the social's ministries.
Thus Mr. Nicolas Sarkozy affirmed before the commission of the report
"France and the French front of the heat wave: lessons of a crisis ":
"no information" then allowed the ministry interior to seize the
extent of the catastrophe. The management reports of the brigade of
the firemen of Paris underlining an increase in the number of
interventions were received every day at the minister office, but the
fluctuations of significant activities are recurring with the brigade.
According to the minister, "the interventions of the firemen of Paris
are on average 800 per day over the year. August 8, 1 000
interventions were listed (...) the figures of the last week reveal
950 interventions with victim per day (...) no moment, it was not
announced to my office cases of significant surmortality, no even as
the firemen encountered particular difficulties to ensure their
mission ". The heat wave was short and brutal, but no signal of
information functioned with the interior's ministry which,
consequently, was not able to diffuse relevant alarms...
Statistics comes from the report presented at the Senat :"La France
and the French front of the heat wave: lessons of a crisis "...
Kristine Barut Dreuilhe
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