PARIS – Parisians breathed easier as temperatures began abating Wednesday, although health authorities faced renewed accusations that people died unnecessarily from the heat wave.
The director general of Paris' hospitals authority, Rose-Marie van Lerberghe, said "a little over 100" people died in the French capital since Friday because of the heat.
But Wednesday morning, Paris awoke to a temperature of 73 degrees, noticeably cooler than the record early morning heat of 77.9 registered at the start of the week.
Britain also felt the relief of cooler weather Wednesday following record temperatures.
It was warm in London and southeastern England, with temperatures ranging from 77 to 82. But that was a refreshing change compared to Sunday, when the nation recorded its hottest day ever — 100.58 degrees at Gravesend, in southern England.
Temperatures remained high in Switzerland on Wednesday, with forecasters saying the Swiss would have to wait another day before the thermometer starts to drop. The temperature in the capital, Bern (search), reached 98.6, the hottest day since 1865.
It remained in the high 90s across Germany on Wednesday, with a record high temperature overnight of 81.7, measured in Neutstadt, in southern Germany.
Forecasters are predicting a drop in temperatures by the weekend, with winds bringing cooling air in some regions. Despite thunderstorms and showers forecast in the north, officials say there is still no end to the dry spell that has made forests susceptible to fires.
Wednesday was so far the warmest day in Austria this year, with temperatures of almost 102. The Vienna meteorological institute said temperatures will ease Friday.
The temperature in the Romanian capital, Bucharest (search), reached 90 on Wednesday, but was expected to drop Sunday, with hail storms and cool weather to come.
Meteo France forecaster Michel Daloz said the thermometer climbed toward 90 in Paris by early Wednesday afternoon, down from nearly 104-degree heat Tuesday.
The fortified city of Carcassone (search) in the south roasted in 106-degree heat, while the Rhone Valley registered 102, Daloz said. The heat has prompted winemakers in some areas to begin harvesting their grapes early.
On Wednesday, days after the French government was first accused of a slow response to heat-related deaths, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin asked the Paris region to launch an emergency hospital plan to handle a massive influx of patients.
While the government's Health Ministry says it has no figures, some medical experts contend the heat caused hundreds of deaths — some avoidable. Paris and other regions baked in temperatures sometimes topping 104 — agonizing in a country where air conditioning is not widespread.
The surgeon general's office said Paris region mortuaries were full because of "the increase in deaths due to the heat wave."
"In the majority of cases, these were not inevitable natural deaths, but missed chances, that's to say lives that should have been saved in a modern health system," Francois Aubart, head of a Paris region medical trade union, said in an interview with the daily Le Parisien.
"What shocks me is that state representatives did not react after the first deaths were announced."
But Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei said that "contrary to what is said, the hospitals are performing well."
"In extreme situations like this extreme heat, there's a surge of activity that is sometimes hard to deal with," he said.
The government insists extra beds were put aside to treat victims of heat-related illnesses, and the Defense Ministry said military hospitals took patients from overburdened Paris hospitals.
In Spain, 42 deaths have been blamed on the weather. The nation's hottest spots on Wednesday were in the south and southwest, with temperatures hitting 107.6 in Seville and Caceres (search).
The high heat continued across Italy on Wednesday. Meteorologists said some relieving thundershowers could come to northeast Italy, including parts of the Alps, on Thursday or Friday.