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Sunday 25 August 2019

France hits all-time temperature record as Europe battles heatwave

Several people have died around the continent in incidents authorities are linking to the exceptional weather.

Youngsters cool off at the Trocadero public fountain in Paris (Francisco Seco/AP)
Youngsters cool off at the Trocadero public fountain in Paris (Francisco Seco/AP)

By Angela Charlton, Associated Press

Schools are dousing pupils with water and nursing homes are equipping the elderly with hydration sensors as Europe battles a record-setting heatwave.

Several people have died around the continent in incidents authorities are linking to the exceptional weather.

A major wildfire is raging in north-eastern Spain, sparked after a pile of chicken dung spontaneously combusted in the heat.

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Firefighters tackle a wildfire near Tarragona (Jordi Borras/AP)

Several countries have reported record temperatures this week, and France hit its all-time heat record on Friday: 45.1C in the small southern town of Villevieille, according to French media.

The French national weather service activated its highest level heat danger alert for the first time, putting four regions around Marseille and Montpellier in the south of the country under special watch.

About 4,000 schools closed because they could not ensure safe conditions, and local authorities cancelled many end-of-school-year carnivals.

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Keeping cool in Paris (Lewis Joly/AP)

Some criticised the government for going overboard, but prime minister Edouard Philippe defended the efforts after 15,000 people died in a heatwave in 2003 that woke France up to the risks.

“This heatwave is exceptional by its intensity and its earliness,” he told reporters.

“Measures have been taken for the most vulnerable people. But given the intensity of the heatwave, it’s the entire population who must be careful today … both for oneself and for loved ones and neighbours.”

Italy put 16 cities under alerts for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists visiting famed sites around Rome under a scorching sun.

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St Peter’s Square at the Vatican (Gregorio Borgia/AP)

Heat was blamed for the deaths of two people in Spain, private news agency Europa Press reported.

An 80-year-old man collapsed and died in the street in Valladolid, in north-west Spain, the agency said, and a 17-year-old boy died in the southern city of Cordoba after diving into a swimming pool and losing consciousness.

Four people have drowned so far in France this week. The health minister warned people to swim only in authorised areas.

France has also seen a rise in so-called street-pooling, or illegally opening fire hydrants. A six-year-old child is in life-threatening condition after being hit by water shooting from a hydrant in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, broadcaster France-Info reported.

More than 700 firefighters and six water-dropping aircraft are battling the worst fire in two decades in the Catalonia region as Spain is forecast to endure the peak of its heatwave, with temperatures expected to exceed 40C.

Authorities in Spain said more than 700 firefighters, eight helicopters and six water-dropping aircraft aimed to slow the progress of a wildfire until nightfall, when cooler temperatures might give them an advantage.

A stiff breeze was driving the flames in the direction of Lleida, 19 miles away, although officials said the city was not considered to be under threat.

Temperatures in the area of the fire reached 41C, but were forecast to drop from Saturday.

Authorities said the fire is the Catalonia region’s worst fire in two decades and 20,000 hectares of hilly terrain are at risk.

Authorities are caring for more than 50 people evacuated the previous day. They included locals as well as people from Britain, Belgium, Germany, Brazil and the US, according to Europa Press.

In Berlin, a police unit turned water cannons — usually used against rioters — on city trees to cool them down.

PA Media

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