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Officials Say Europe's Heat Wave Toll Tops 12,000

August 23, 2003|From Associated Press

PARIS — Europe's deadly heat wave claimed more than 2,000 lives in countries outside France, where an estimated 10,000 have died, according to official reports. Italy, which had refused to release figures, bowed to public outcry over increased deaths and agreed Friday to investigate the toll.

Associated Press compiled reports from hospitals and local and national governments about the deaths from 18 countries. Outside France, the highest official estimates came from Portugal, with 1,300 deaths, and the Netherlands, with 500 to 1,000.

At the height of the two-week heat wave this month, unusually large numbers of deaths were reported compared with last year. But European nations are divided over how to go about the task of tallying heat deaths. The continent's largest hospital, the Allgemeines Krankenhaus in Vienna, does not list heat as a cause of death, and the Czech Republic said it hasn't recorded a heat death since 1995.

The French compared mortality rates this summer with last and attributed the difference to the heat. In Spain and Italy, some believe that if the same simple method is applied there, death tolls would skyrocket. No comprehensive European death toll from the heat wave exists.

Italy's Health Ministry bowed to the public pressure Friday and said it would investigate heat deaths by using the same method as France. Previously, the ministry insisted that it was almost impossible to determine whether deaths -- particularly among the elderly or gravely ill -- were directly linked to high temperatures.

Public advocacy groups and others had called for an inquiry, following media reports that estimated death rates rose drastically during the first half of August, particularly in major cities of northern Italy.

Calls by Associated Press to several Italian cities found marked increases in deaths compared with last year, although the causes weren't clear.

Genoa had 693 deaths in the first 18 days of August, compared with 475 in the whole month last year, city officials said. In Turin, city officials reported that 732 died, compared with 388 deaths in the same period last year.

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