Hundreds of Bodies Await Burial Outside Paris in Wake of Heat Wave

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Up to 400 unidentified or abandoned bodies awaited temporary burial Monday near Paris (search) as authorities struggled with the fallout of France's deadly heat wave, news reports said.

More than 100 bodies sat in refrigerated trucks outside a city-run warehouse in the southern suburb of Ivry-sur-Seine, reports said. City officials vowed to bury them, whether families claimed them or not.

"Maybe they don't have relatives — a great-nephew or otherwise — who is interested in a burial," Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe (search) told LCI Television. "In any case, we're doing all that we can so it takes place in the most emotionally honorable conditions."

Officials were still counting the casualties — mainly among the elderly and ailing — from the record heat in the first two weeks of August when temperatures got as high as 104.

France's leading chain of undertakers estimated last week the heat wave had claimed 10,000 victims, based on a rough comparison between deaths this August and the same period last year. The government initially said that figure was probably correct, but Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin cast doubt on that Saturday, calling recent estimates unreliable.

Newspaper reports Monday said that between 300 and 400 bodies had not been claimed outside Paris.

While many opposition leaders have criticized the center-right government for an allegedly slow response to the crisis, newspapers and editorial writers faulted French citizens in general.

"These forgotten dead," wrote daily France-Soir in a front-page headline Monday.

Under the headline "French Barbarity," Renaud Girard, an editorialist for Le Figaro newspaper, wrote: "It's not up to the Father State to take care of our elderly. It's up to us."

City officials said over the weekend they have identified hundreds of bodies but have been unable to clear the backlog of corpses.

Paris authorities have decided to extend the legal time permitted between death and burial from six days to 10, to give families more time to locate the deceased.

On Sunday, city officials launched a telephone drive to reach families unaware of their loved ones' fate as the makeshift morgues in and around Paris sat filled with corpses.