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Dispatches The Buzz

europe cooks
Abnormally high temperatures have given rise to "a veritable epidemic" of heat-related deaths in France this month, according to French Health Minister Jean-Francois Mattei. The government last week estimated that the heat had taken the lives of about 3,000 people, mostly seniors, and French hospitals reported a flood of elderly patients suffering from dehydration and hyperthermia. The country lacks widespread air-conditioning, and the average August temperature in Paris is a mild 75 degrees. Last week, temperatures exceeded 98 degrees in the French capital. Meanwhile, drought had reduced water levels in rivers across Europe, slowing down the shipping industry. Heavy barge traffic was stalled on the Elbe and Rhine rivers, and the water level dipped to under two yards on the Danube in southwestern Romania. In Spain, the heat wave caused an ice shortage. "Our reserves have practically run out ... and when temperatures go above [104 degrees] the machines produce less," Ricardo Lasco, manager of Madrid's 24-hour ice factory Todohielo, told the Reuters news service. By the end of the week, however, weather forecasters were predicting a break from the high temperatures throughout the continent.
eastern alert
Would Aug. 14, 2003, live in an infamy similar to Sept. 11, 2001? That was the immediate concern as blackouts swept through the northeast last week. But the terror alert remained at yellow as millions of Americans and Canadians lost power in New York, Detroit, Cleveland, Boston, Toronto, and numerous other northeastern cities and towns around 4:00 p.m. EDT on Aug. 14. "We have no indication that there is any terrorism involved," said Bryan Lee, spokesman for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, shortly after the blackout. Instead, a problem at a local power grid affected "the entire eastern interconnection," according to Ellen Vancko of the North American Electric Reliability Council. The result: Thousands of workers throughout the region streamed into the streets in the mid-afternoon heat-clogging major roads and intersections-as the blackout affected airports, elevators, and subways.
coming home
"You are now in the United States," Delta flight attendant Connie Teitel told 3rd Infantry Division soldiers boarding a chartered flight from Kuwait to Fort Stewart, Ga. For the combat-weary soldiers, the plane-decorated with red, white, and blue streamers, U.S. flags, and yellow ribbons-marked the first time they had been on U.S. territory of any type since deployment to the Middle East nearly a year ago. All summer, 3rd Infantry Division soldiers who stormed Baghdad have been returning by the hundreds to Fort Stewart, and the homecomings are set to continue until the end of September. The soldiers were the first to cross into Baghdad on April 7, fighting 11 battles along the way. They held the city for three days until Marine reinforcements arrived, set up command posts at the Baghdad airport, and fended off guerrilla attacks in Fallujah and across central Iraq. They also took the most hits: 37 have been killed in Iraq. Fresh troops arriving in Iraq learned they may be there up to a year. U.S. officials say they will extend deployments for all armed forces, including National Guard units. Over 150,000 U.S. soldiers are deployed in Iraq, with another 100,000 in Qatar, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and other parts of the region. Major deployments elsewhere worldwide total just over 130,000.
west nile watch
Over 4,000 people reported contracting the mosquito-borne West Nile Virus last year, and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that this year's tally may end up higher. CDC officials said the disease was spreading faster than they had expected, with 164 cases reported in 16 states as of Aug. 8. "The numbers are starting to change very, very quickly," said CDC director Julie Gerberding. West Nile is rarely deadly, and most people infected with the disease show no symptoms at all. But for a small number, especially the elderly, West Nile leads to encephalitis or meningitis and can be life-threatening. Dr. Gerberding said that "we are starting the epidemic with more cases than last year" and predicted "a great number of infected people." The CDC says the 16 states reporting West Nile cases include Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Texas. Of the 4,156 Americans who tested positive for West Nile last year, 284 died of the disease.
halting revival
Two government reports issued last week suggested that the U.S. economy is continuing its slow recovery. The Labor Department reported that the Producer Price Index, which measures wholesale prices, rose a stable 0.1 percent in July. It had risen 0.5 percent in June. New claims for unemployment edged up, but also only very slightly, from 396,000 to 398,000. New jobless claims had been as high as 459,000 in April. The news prompted Alan Greenspan and the other Federal Reserve Bank governors to leave short-term interest rates unchanged at 1 percent. If the U.S. economy does sustain a recovery, it may not receive any help from Europe. Eurostat, the European Union's statistics agency, reported last week that the EU economy didn't grow during the second quarter of this year. The EU's largest economy, Germany, actually fell into recession, with a 0.1 percent contraction in the second quarter that followed a 0.2 percent contraction in the first quarter. This is the third straight year of near-zero growth for the German economy.