Red Cross assists Europe’s victims of fire and heat

Publicado: 15 agosto 2003 0:00 CET

Red Cross volunteers from Portugal, France, Spain, and Italy have been involved in helping their respective authorities in managing the humanitarian crisis arising from the forest fires and heat wave affecting much of Europe.

As the French health ministry announced that up to 3,000 recent deaths have been due to the heat wave, the French Red Cross (CRF) began transporting dead bodies to morgues in the Ile-de France department.

Official figures show that mortality rates in France have risen 37 per cent this year. The figure is 50 per cent in Paris, and as high as 100 per cent in some departments. Some 500 trained Red Cross first aiders and 50 ambulances are active throughout the country.

The CRF, together with the police and authorities, have organised an emergency unit which telephones some 6,000 elderly people to check that they are well. If nobody answers, the volunteers will accompany the police to their homes and see if they need any kind of assistance.

In Paris, 160 CRF volunteers are working in close collaboration with the fire and health services. They are present in 12 hospitals and 100 retirement homes, welcoming those brought in suffering from heat exhaustion, cooling them down with damp towels and encouraging them to drink. Thirteen Red Cross vehicles have been lent to the capital’s fire services.

Volunteers are also participating in a nationwide information campaign, informing the public about how to cope with France’s hottest summer for over 50 years.

The CRF has been involved in providing accommodation for people whose homes have been threatened by forest fire, while specialized teams provide them with psychological support. It has also provided beds to emergency accommodation centres established by city councils.

In the South of France, several Red Cross trucks are touring popular sites, offering tourists water to drink, as well as ice-cream and fruit to eat.

Meanwhile, 16 people have died and hundreds have been left homeless in Portugal, which is experiencing its worst fires in living memory. Sixteen of the country’s 18 districts have been affected by the blazes.

Portugal Red Cross Society (CVP) volunteers are involved in the government-led emergency operation. When the fires first broke out, 100 volunteers used 25 ambulances to help evacuate victims in the Castelo Branco, Portalegre, Santarém et Lisbon regions, transporting them to hospitals or temporary shelters.

Forest fires are a regular summer occurrence in Portugal, but this year, unusually hot dry air and strong winds have combined to make many unmanageable. Thousand of acres have been devastated, particularly in the centre where many of Portugal’s forests are located.

The CVP is a part of the local emergency commissions and has been appointed by the government to be the lead agency that collects and distributes all donations received in material or in cash. The CVP volunteers are preparing a list of the people who have been affected by the fires to facilitate the distribution process.

Twenty five CVP volunteers will start to intervene today in the operation in the Algarve region using five ambulances and one field hospital.

Across the border, 200 Spanish Red Cross (CRE) volunteers were involved in operations to rescue and assist families affected by the fires, which have killed at least seven people and left hundreds homeless. The CRE has been providing those affected with temporary shelters, food, water and medicine. In addition to the fires, 24 people have perished as a result of the effects of heat.

As a result, the CRE has registered a marked increase in the demand for its services, and has stepped up its summer campaign, entitled “This summer, love yourself”, through which it is offering first aid and safety advice to counter the dangers of dehydration, sunstroke and so on.

In Italy, more than 10,000 Italian Red Cross volunteers, working alongside the State Forestry Corps and National Fire Departments, are involved in putting out the fires that have been ravaging woodland. They have also been bringing sanitary and social assistance to the devastated population.