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Last Updated: Saturday, 16 August, 2003, 16:51 GMT 17:51 UK
France 'heatwave' mortuary opens
Makeshift morgue, Paris
Makeshift morgues have been used to store bodies temporarily
France's largest mortuary - set up in an empty food warehouse near Paris - has begun to take in its first victims of the country's heatwave.

The disused fruit and vegetable warehouse is being used as emergency accommodation as part of Plan Blanc, the government's bid to cope with the growing number who have perished in the hot temperatures.

The French health ministry believes the deaths of up to 3,000 people in recent weeks can be attributed to the heatwave.

The mortuary, south of Paris, can house up to 2,000 corpses and took 35 victims when it opened on Friday.

Plan extended

It was set up after funeral homes in the Paris region filled up and is expected to remain open for at least two weeks.

The Plan Blanc is providing extra hospital beds and staff, as well as authorising the creation of temporary mortuary to cope with the recent deaths.

Elderly woman treated in Paris hospital
Plan Blanc includes making extra hospital staff available

The government's plan was originally set up to respond to terrorist attacks, natural catastrophes or epidemics.

After starting in Paris it has been extended across the whole of France.

The extreme heat has set records on the continent, leading to dozens of deaths from heat stroke and devastating forest fires in countries on the western Mediterranean.

Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin has come under mounting criticism in recent days for his government's perceived slow response to the crisis.

Temperatures in France have dropped from the highs of the past two weeks but it remains hot.

The BBC's Gordon Harcourt
"France's health system has been under stress because of the heatwave"

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