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2003 heat wave: x-ray of a disaster


On believes he already knows everything about the 2003 heat wave, and yet the director Morgane Courgeon manages to make us discover new aspects of this drama which caused 15,000 deaths during the first half of August, mainly in Île-de- France, and in particular in Paris. Heatwave 2003, Paris caught in the furnace

is broadcast this Monday, July 3, at 10:45 p.m. on France 3, as part of the La Ligne Bleue program. 20 years later, we see that even if progress has been made to prevent this type of disaster, no one can guarantee that such a tragedy will not happen again. A recent study, published in theLancet Planetary Health

, even showed that Paris was the major city in Europe that was most exposed to the risk of a deadly heat wave. Too much concrete, not enough trees, too much tar conducive to creating “urban heat islands” (ICU), the very ones that trapped the temperature and created a terrible “oven” effect in 2003. What are you waiting for? we to whiten the roofs and floors, a really effective technique to lower the temperature, to green more buildings do we wonder when looking at these images? Apart from the fine speeches, Paris does not seem to have changed significantly in appearance since the drama of the summer of 2003.READ ALSO

Heat wave: welcome to the next worldThe “actors” of the time had at least the excuse of not knowing what was going on, faced with a new phenomenon. Not all of them had the same effectiveness, to say the least. In hospitals and retirement homes, people suffering from thermal discomfort pile up on makeshift stretchers, sometimes under ice, while the D r

Patrick Pelloux, emergency doctor at Saint-Antoine hospital, calls for help amid general indifference. The head of the Samu de Paris, Pierre Carli, is struggling to find solutions in the face of a completely unprecedented crisis, night and day.

power vacuum

Conversely, in a video sequence that has become cult, the Minister of Health Jean-François Mattéi appears in a short-sleeved polo shirt in his Var vacation home on Monday August 11 at 8 p.m. on TF1, to say globally that the situation is under control. Terrible discrepancy, which illustrates the vacuum of power and the disconnection of the senior administration from the reality on the ground. Morgane Courgeon’s film shows the course of this incredible week, from Thursday August 7 to Thursday August 14, when thousands of people will die in indescribable chaos, with bodies sometimes kept in refrigerated trucks due to lack of space in funeral homes. , before the State finally takes stock of the situation.During this crazy week, we listen to the D r

Pelloux recount that “the heat was such that it had burned my biker suit”. But it is with his white coat that he “sees the arrival of flows of patients in totally abnormal quantities, dehydrated, exhausted”. Professor Carli, at the Paris Samu, does not understand what is happening either, believes “in a summer flu Pandemic, given the high temperatures of the patients”, before discovering “in the evening, in his apartment, in reading the Internet, which was rare at the time, that in Chicago in 1995 a deadly heat wave had mowed down hundreds of people in a few days. If your body temperature exceeds 40°C, you are weakened. At 42°C or 43°C you cook, the damage may be irreversible. That was what happened to us”.READ ALSO

“Dying of heat”: the threat of the wet bulb Journalist then posted to the Health section of theParisian

, I discovered a phenomenon that I did not know, and, after having contacted Pierre Carli and Patrick Pelloux, I wrote “Heat wave: fourteen deaths in two days” on the front page of Saturday August 8th. But it is with a certain indifference that this news is received, in this first fortnight of August when holidays and lethargy still take over. We then decide to launch a major investigation to find out the number of deaths from the heat wave – of which no authority has the slightest idea. Calls are made to town halls, hospitals, retirement homes. We will end up with a staggering total of nearly 2,000 deaths in Île-de-France. And we were still below reality.

In this context, to see, in this documentary, the plea of ​​Jean-François Mattéi is still as staggering. “Of course I have regrets. I should have gone to the field, and returned to Paris, I would have realized the situation then. “But, according to him, his administration told him nothing, and he was suspicious of Patrick Pelloux, who “often cries with the wolves. So when there really was a wolf, we didn’t believe it”. Asked about this topic, Patrick Pelloux confided to us: “For me, this statement is the very example of what happened during the 2003 heat wave. There are two worlds in France. That of field doctors and the caste of people in power. The barriers are insurmountable. The reality that the French live, they do not understand it. »

However, the figure of the Prime Minister at the time, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, on the contrary reflects the image of a dynamic power, even if he reacts too late. In a strong testimony, Raffarin evokes “one of the crises in France from which we have learned the most lessons. We have put in place a certain number of social and financial tools, which mean that we will no longer have this indifference which has been extremely deadly”.

Elderly loneliness

The filmed sequences of the bodies that no family comes to claim actually testify to a great loneliness, in particular of the isolated elderly. The employees of the funeral directors have to go and find corpses in a state of putrefaction in apartments under the roofs, in sometimes unbearable scenes. The director of the funeral services of the City of Paris, at the time François Michaud-Mérard, gave a particularly worthy and poignant testimony, and confided “not to come out unscathed from a crisis like that”.READ ALSO

“We must prepare for these more frequent and intense heat waves”

The government of Jean-Pierre Raffarin then decided to finance – in part – dependency with the abolition of the Whit Monday public holiday, and elected officials set up programs to identify and warn isolated people. And Météo-France reviewed its “bulletins”, integrating the risk of “extreme heat” in its messages, a communication that was to prove very effective over the following years in preventing the publication of extreme climate risks.Have we done enough, in 2023, to prevent such a disaster from happening again? For the P r

Pierre Carli, whom we interviewed, “we have made really good progress on the heat wave risk itself. We know the phenomenon much better. The 2003 crisis is one of the most brutal events I have ever seen. But despite everything, I am not completely reassured today. Because the threat persists. “We have to deal with increasingly extreme heat peaks in large cities. The lack of hospital beds is still a reality, and we are facing new risks, such as hacking against hospitals. We must therefore remain very vigilant in the face of these intensifying crises,” he concludes.READ ALSO

Heat waves, drought, storms… The record summer of 2022, a taste of the future


Heatwave 2003. Paris in the furnace . Documentary by Morgane Courgeon. 52 minutes. Broadcast on Monday July 3 on France 3, at 10:45 p.m. “La Ligne Bleue” program.

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