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LIVE FROM THE HEADLINES

France Heat Wave Leads to Mass Deaths, Talk of Social Change

Aired August 25, 2003 - 19:26   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, the end of the French heat wave led to a painful and disturbing claim that some of those who died had been left alone by vacationing families who might still not know they are dead.
Officials continue counting the dead now.

As CNN'S Chris Burns reports from Paris, the way some of them died has turned the French heat into a wave of anguish.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

CHRIS BURNS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It's an image haunting the country.

Ten days after the heat wave end, hundreds of bodies, mostly of the elderly who died alone in their apartments, are still unclaimed, piling up in refrigerator trucks parked outside the capital, while others have been languishing for days in refrigerated tents and a food warehouse.

Critics say the government is partly to blame for this situation, along with families who went on August vacations, almost a sacred ritual in France, leaving Grandmama or Grandpapa behind.

"The forgotten dead" headlined "Francois."

One critic faults France's womb-to-tomb social programs for public complacency.

ANDREE RERCOFF, COLUMNIST, "FRANCE SOIR": And because the state is supposed to take care of everything, people say, "I don't care, the state will provide."

BURNS: A crisis team is desperately trying to contact families to arrange for burials. Dozens of bodies have been interred in paupers' graves. In this cemetery outside Paris, more are destined to be buried if no relatives are found.

After hospitals overflowed with the dying during the heat wave, the cash-strapped government of Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin admitted the state-run health system needs better crisis response.

Nursing home operators will meet with officials on Tuesday to demand more funding, including money for air conditioning.

(on camera) But President Jacques Chirac has also argued that part of the blame rests with negligent families. A wakeup call to a nation that's prided itself on its social safety net, that especially with an aging population, the power and reach of the state have their limits.

Chris Burns, CNN, Paris.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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