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HEATWAVE

Health warnings issued across Europe as punishing heatwave reaches peak

A ferocious heatwave that has broken temperature records across Europe is set to hit its peak on Thursday, sparking concerns about public health and new misery for rail travellers whose holiday plans have been badly affected.

Health warnings issued across Europe as punishing heatwave reaches peak
People line up to jump off a diving tower on the shore of the lake Ammersee near the small Bavarian village of Utting, southern Germany

After all-time temperature records were smashed in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands on Wednesday, Britain and the French capital Paris could on Thursday to see their highest ever temperatures.

Trains have been slowed in several European countries to avoid damage to the railway networks and French national operator SNCF has urged travellers to delay journeys planned for Thursday.

In Italy 13 the Ministry of Health issued the level three, or red alert weather warnings for 13 cities. While Germany was braced for its hottest day ever on record.

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In the Netherlands, farmers have been leaving their cows outside to sleep, rather than bringing them in at night, while Dutch media said hundreds of pigs died when a ventilator failed at Middelharnis.

The heatwave, which is expected to ease up on Friday as rain and thunderstorms move in, had again focused public attention on the problems caused by climate change.

Authorities have warned people to keep an eye on those living alone and also to beware of taking the plunge to cool down after a spike in drownings.

Hundreds of travellers were stuck on trains in sweltering conditions outside Paris for several hours late Wednesday after a fire on an electrical transformer halted traffic in and out of the Gare de l'Est station in Paris.

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This came after a failure on an overhead power line had halted train traffic between Brussels and London and Paris. It was not immediately clear if the fault was due to the heatwave but Eurostar warned further disruptions were expected Thursday.

“I ask everyone who can avoid or delay their journeys to do so,” said French Environment Minister Elisabeth Borne, saying workers who can do their jobs at home should not go to their offices.

“When it is this hot it is not just people in a fragile state who can have health problems,” she warned.

'Look after people'

Paris was expected to see the mercury soar to as much as 41 or 42 degrees Celsius, breaking a 70-year-plus record of 40.4C (104.7 Fahrenheit).

Britain's Met Office predicted a chance that the UK record of 38.5C, which was recorded in Faversham, Kent, in August 2004, would also be exceeded on Thursday.

The northern third of France, including Paris, was under a red alert while the rest of the country had a yellow warning and water-use restrictions were in force.

On Wednesday, the southern Dutch town of Gilze-Rijen experienced 38.8C heat, surpassing a record dating back 75 years.

Belgium registered an all-time high since records began of 39.9C at the Kleine-Brogel military base, beating a record that dated back to June 1947.

And Germany's western town of Geilenkirchen recorded 40.5C, beating a previous record from 2015.

Paris, in particular, remains haunted by the early summer of 2003 when 15,000 deaths were blamed on the heat and the authorities were bitterly criticised for not mobilising fast enough.

“We need to take care of ourselves but above all others especially those who are alone, and be able to detect the first symptoms of heatstroke,” said Prime Minister Edouard Philippe.

Local authorities have placed restrictions on water usage in many areas due to drought-like conditions that have seen ground and river water levels fall dramatically.

Climate change

This summer's second heatwave has amplified concerns in Europe that human activity is heating the planet at a dangerous rate.

The June 26-28 blast of heat in France was four degrees Celsius (7.2 degrees Fahrenheit) hotter than an equally rare June heatwave would have been in 1900, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) team said this month.  

One study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said the deadly, weeks-long heatwave across northern Europe in 2018 would have been statistically impossible without climate change.

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CLIMATE

Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves

The climate crisis is causing serious problems for Italy's biggest cities and extreme weather events are going to become more frequent, according to a new report.

Climate crisis: The Italian cities worst affected by flooding and heatwaves
A file photo from November 12th, 2019 shows flooding during an exceptionally high 'acqua alta' in Venice.Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Anyone who was in Italy throughout this year’s long, hot summer may suspect that heatwaves are becoming a more frequent occurrence.

And residents of the lagoon city of Venice will no doubt be able to attest to the devastating impact of serious floods, as well as to the fact that such events appear to be becoming increasingly frequent.

In fact, a new study by the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC) has confirmed that the incidence rate of both heatwaves and floods in Italy has increased significantly – and is only expected to keep rising.

READ ALSO: From Venice to Mont Blanc, how is the climate crisis affecting Italy?

The report stated that average temperatures have risen overall in the last 30 years and continue to rise in all cities.

“Risks associated with climate change affect all Italian regions and their economic sectors,” the study’s authors stated. “Despite contrasts, with different areas being affected in different ways, there are no regions that can be considered immune from climate risks.”

The report found that the southern city of Naples had experienced the biggest increase in the frequency and severity of heatwaves.

Heatwaves fuelled the most destructive fire season to date in Italy this summer Photo: Nicolas TUCAT/AFP

The southern city has in recent years reported an average of 50 more intensely hot days per year than it did at the beginning of the century.

The same figure for Milan was +30 days, Turin +29 and Rome +28. 

Although extreme weather events have always existed and Italy is no stranger to intense heat, numerous studies have found that the climate crisis is making heatwaves more frequent and more dangerous.

Meanwhile, in Venice, over the last 150 years the relative water level of the city has risen by more than 30 centimeters, and the critical threshold has been exceeded 40 times in the last 10 years, the CMCC found..

The report also warned that the city of Bologna could expect to see an increase in the intensity and frequency of flooding in the future.

READ ALSO: Floods in Italy: What to do when there’s a weather warning

It added that “all scenarios” showed an increased risk of heatwaves and urban flooding in the coming years.

In 2019, Rome was found to be the city in Europe most at risk of flooding, according to water monitoring authorities.

“There are parts of Rome that can’t withstand a heavy downpour,” said the Central Apennines District Basin Authority.

Rome’s soft soil and famous hills make it naturally vulnerable to erosion and mudslides, while the authority said poorly maintained sewers, waste dumping and vegetation blocking the course of the Tiber and Aniene rivers were contributing to the flood risk.

Previous studies have also found that Rome suffered the highest number of extreme weather events overall in recent years.

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