France aims to avoid repeat of 2003 tragedy as it prepares for Europe-wide heatwave

  • Video report by ITV News Correspondent Rachel Younger

As a Europe-wide heatwave draws nearer, France is making preparations to avoid a repeat of summer 2003, when supermarket store rooms had to be used as emergency morgues to deal with the huge number of heat-related deaths.

Around 15,000 people died as a result of the weather that summer, many of which were vulnerable elderly people who do not always have the feeling of thirst.

The county was unprepared for the weather and in response to mortuaries rapidly filling up, replacements were set up in refrigeration lorries.

Elderly people in France suffered the most in 2003 and the government doesn't want a repeat. Credit: AP

A supermarket's 43,000 square-feet refrigerated store-room was even used as a temporary morgue, with army beds being used to hold hundreds of bodies.

The high number of deaths resulted in mass funerals in Paris, with 57 people being buried on the same day at one cemetery.

As a result of summer 2003, an alert system was introduced in France which aims to warn people about expected highs and avoid more deaths.

There were also heat-related deaths in the UK (2,000), Portugal (2,100), Italy (3,100), Holland (1,500) and Germany (300) that year.

A temporary morgue was set up in a supermarket's refrigerated store room. Credit: AP
  • The 2019 European heatwave:

The Europe-wide heatwave this summer is being caused by hot winds coming from the Sahara desert, say meteorologists, with Hungary, France, Germany and others all set to suffer.

The alert level in Paris has been raised to orange and charity organisations are patrolling to provide water to homeless people and offering places where they can seek shelter.

Specific instructions have been sent to retirement homes, with helplines and cool rooms also being set up to help the elderly.

Despite highs predicted in the rest of Europe, much of the UK is experiencing rain, however the temperature is expected to rise later in the week.

By Friday, some parts of the UK will be looking at highs of up to 33 degrees by day and even at night, some parts of southern England will remain warm.

Anyone experiencing too high temperatures is advised to "stay hydrated, drink plenty of water and of course, avoid the sun, especially between the hours of 11 4 'o'clock", says ITV News Weather Presenter Amanda Houston.

She added: "Even if it's cloudy, the UV levels are high, so make sure you're popping on that sun cream, wear loose clothing, that will help, and just stay safe."

While 2003 was the worst year for France, in Britain 11 of the top 20 warmest Junes on record have occurred since then, say the Met Office.

The years 2003, 2006, 2017 and 2018 are all in the top 10, according to Met Office data.

In first place is June 1976, which saw an average mean temperature across the UK of 15.0C.

Bournemouth beach is one of the UK's most popular tourist destinations when the weather is hot. Credit: PA

Second is 1940 with 14.9C, while 2018 is third with 14.8C.

Last year saw a very warm June, with a maximum temperature of 33.0C recorded at Porthmadog in Gwynedd on June 28.

But the heatwave that hit the UK in the summer of 1976 was one of the longest in living memory and triggered the most significant drought for at least the last 150 years.