When it comes to bad weather, heat waves kill more people than tornadoes, blizzards or hurricanes, which doesn’t bode well for global warming. For instance, during 3 excruciating weeks in August of 2003, an epic heat wave broiled parts of Europe and killed an estimated 70,000 people. It was so hot electrical cables melted, nuclear reactors could not be cooled, water pumps failed, and museum specimens liquefied.
France was hit particularly hard, with temperatures that surpassed 100 degrees Fahrenheit on seven days. Medical historian Richard Keller says, "Measured by mortality, it was the worst natural disaster in contemporary France." 14,802 people died. By comparison, Hurricane Katrina and its floods, which devastated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005, exacted a death toll of 1,836 people.
The catastrophe occurred at a time when many Europeans, including government officials and physicians, were on annual holiday and was first sensed by undertakers, who were being overwhelmed with unclaimed bodies, some of which had to be stored in a refrigerated warehouse outside the city as mortuaries ran short of space.
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Contributing to the death toll were a host of social variables such as age of the victims, social status, gender and where they lived. In Paris, many of the victims were elderly women who lived alone, usually on the top floors of cheap, poorly ventilated walk-ups. Keller says, "People who lived in these apartments died like flies. This was as much a social as a health and epidemiological disaster. There were social factors that made some people much more vulnerable."
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"The single biggest factor for dying was if you lived alone."
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