Europe swelters in heatwave, 20 dead in France

PARIS - A heatwave in France has probably killed more than 20 people, including a 15-month-old baby, and the rest of Europe also sweltered with no sign of temperatures dropping.

Temperatures were not as high as they had been on previous days but authorities warned people to take precautions.

"Desert London", a headline in Britain's Evening Standard newspaper said over a photo of a parched Hyde Park on Friday.

"This is not the Sahara or Serengeti - these remarkable pictures show how London's parks have been turned dry, brown and dusty by the drought," the newspaper said.

A severe drought, said to be the worst in a century in the south of England, is making itself felt and temperatures hit a July record of 36.3degC earlier this week.

British farmers have begun harvesting wheat fields early because of the dry weather.

In Spain, a sunbather died in Barcelona from the heat and a 37-year-old man died in hospital on Friday after collapsing from heat exhaustion while working in a greenhouse in Almeria on the south coast the day before.

Six people were reported dead from heat-related problems so far this Spanish summer.

As in the last major heatwave in 2003, which in France lasted less than a month but killed around 15,000 people, most of the victims were elderly people or the infirm.

A health ministry official said a baby died in Paris where temperatures hit 37 Celsius earlier this week, but provided no further details.

Of the other victims, 10 were aged 80 or over, four collapsed at their workplace, two died while playing sport, two were homeless and one was an obese youth "in poor physical condition".

Temperatures well above 30degC have been registered across France over the past week and weather forecasters say the heatwave looks set to continue well into next week.

The high death toll stunned health authorities and local officials have worked hard to try to improve their response to heatwaves, supplying air conditioning to retirement homes and broadcasting constant information on how to cope in the heat.

In Italy, temperatures pushed higher on Friday, reaching nearly 39degC in Florence, and were expected to increase throughout the weekend. Many cities raised their alert levels to avoid a repeat of 2003, when the heatwave killed 20,000 people. Emergency workers in Rome said they were handing out water to people standing in queues outside museums and art galleries or waiting in the sun to catch their bus.

A worker collapsed and died of heat-related causes in the island of Sardinia on Thursday, while health services received thousands of calls from elderly people asking for help.

Southern and western Bosnia have been hit by a series of fires as temperatures reached as high as 41 degrees, prompting local fire fighters to ask the army for helicopter assistance.

- REUTERS

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n3 at 20 Apr 2014 01:30:59 Processing Time: 693ms