Sat, Jul 29, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Hot European weather still taking a toll

GET SOME PERSPECTIVE French heat-related deaths have risen to above 80 people, but it's nowhere near as bad this year as the 2003 heatwave which killed 15,000


France and Italy on Thursday reported new victims of a heatwave that has engulfed Europe for the last two weeks, bringing the number of deaths to more than 80 people, as storms also took their toll.

High temperatures persisted in northern Italy, Germany and southeast Europe, but forecasters predicted that spreading storms and rain would bring respite to many areas of the baking continent.

Rain would come as welcome relief to farmers, who in many countries have reported withering crops, and would also help boost perilously low water levels.

The French health-monitoring authority InVS updated the death toll in France to 64, from a previous estimate of 40, and the heat was also blamed for a further three deaths in the north of Italy.

This year, there has been no repetition of the massive loss of life caused by the last major heatwave in 2003 when in France alone 15,000 people died.

Factors such as greater awareness, slightly lower temperatures and preventative action by governments to protect the elderly are thought to have helped limit the number of deaths.

The director of the French InVS health monitoring body, Gilles Brucker, warned that the number of deaths could rise in France, even though wet weather lowered temperatures across most of France on Thursday.

Separately on Thursday, French weather office Meteo France announced that July had been the hottest month on record, on average three to four degrees above the norm.

In Italy, a victim was found dead in his apartment in Padua and two elderly people also died, one in his garden near Padua and the other in north Lombardy during a walk to cool down.

Italian Agriculture Minister Paolo de Castra called the heatwave "dramatic" in an interview with newspaper La Repubblica and authorities have estimated the damage to the country's agricultural sector at about US$637 million.

Figures showing the fall in water levels in Italy were also cause for concern.

The level of the River Po, which runs across the north of Italy, fell by 7cm on Wednesday at one measuring station.

On Wednesday, French Environment Minister Nelly Olin had warned that groundwater levels in the Paris region were at their lowest level in 20 years and said that water restrictions were in place for nearly half of the country.

"It needs to rain without storms. That would be the ideal situation but I don't think we're there yet today," she told French television channel France 2.

In Germany temperatures were back above 30oC on Thursday, after heavy storms the night before, and a motorway was closed after concrete sections cracked and lifted in the heat.

But storms were the order of the day again on Thursday with one man being killed and several others, including seven firefighters, injured by lightning.

The 19-year-old man was killed near the northwestern city of Bremen as he tried to close the window of his car.

The A5 highway near the western city of Frankfurt was set to undergo emergency repairs overnight Friday after pieces of the surface lifted 20cm to 30cm.

Temperatures in Germany were expected to reach 38oC in some parts on Thursday before cooling over the weekend when more storms were forecast.

On Wednesday night, storms above Paris led to the diversion of three Air France planes to Lille airport in the north of the country and caused 152 emergency incidents.

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