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Two dead in Spain as Europe wilts under record heatwave

Two men died from heatstroke in Spain as Europe sweltered in a record heatwave Friday, with temperatures hitting a scorching 45 degrees Celsius in some areas and meteorologists saying only scant relief is in sight in the coming days.

The highest temperature ever recorded in Europe was 48 degrees in Athens in 1977, closely followed by 47.3 in Amareleja, Portugal in 2003 as well as in Montoro, Spain last year.

Here is a roundup:

– Spain: two dead –

Two men — a roadworker in his 40s and a 78-year-old pensioner — died from heatstroke this week, as Spain is set to experience one of its hottest days this summer on Friday, with temperatures expected to top 44 degrees Celsius (111 degrees Fahrenheit) in Badajos on the border with Portugal, 42 degrees in Seville and 40 in Madrid.

– Portugal: record 45 degrees –

In Portugal temperatures topped a record 45 degrees in Alvega, 150 kilometres (93 miles) north of Lisbon, on Thursday. The heatwave is expected to reach its peak on Saturday, according to the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere (IPMA).

While no “substantial” wildfires have been reported so far, the emergency services say they remain on maximum alert and Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita declared a policy of “zero tolerance” towards risky activity, such as barbecues.

– Germany: tourists head north –

Tourism operators, such as Thomas Cook and Alltours, were quoted by German news agency DPA as saying that last-minute bookings for the Mediterranean are down, as holidaymakers seek out cooler temperatures on the North Sea and Baltic coastlines.

– Netherlands: water shortages –

In the Netherlands, where the current heatwave is the longest-ever recorded — with temperatures set to reach 35 degrees on Friday — people are beginning to experience water shortages, even if drinking supplies remain unaffected for now.

– Sweden: hottest July in 250 years –

With almost no rainfall since May, Sweden experienced its hottest July in more than 250 years, with the drought and high temperatures sparking wildfires across the country, even as far north as the Arctic Circle. The fires have largely abated.

A glacier on Sweden’s Kebnekaise mountain has melted so much that it is no longer the country’s highest point, raising concerns about the rapid pace of climate change.

But relief may be on the way: meteorologists are forecasting cooler temperatures and thundershowers across the country on Saturday.

– France: health alert –

Temperatures passed 40 degrees Celsius in France for the first time this summer on Friday as millions hit the roads for August vacations, with sweltering conditions forecast to persist into next week.

Wide swathes of the country have been placed on heatwave alert with the health ministry rolling out a TV and radio campaign alerting people to the dangers of what is expected to be the most intense heatwave since 2006.

However, national weather service Meteo France said conditions were not as severe as in August 2003, when several days of scorching heat caused more than 11,000 deaths.

A daycare centre in Strasbourg, northeast France, turned to toys to keep youngsters cool. “The youngest are wearing only diapers and every once in a while we spray them with water toys,” its deputy director Carol Hebbel told AFP.

– Britain: retail sales down –

In Britain, the heatwave has hit retail sales, which were down 1.1 percent in July, according to accountancy firm BDO.

“While the sunshine and buzz around England’s World Cup run was a boost for pubs and supermarkets, the scorching conditions did not encourage physical shopping and only hindered footfall in shops,” said BDO’s Sophie Michael.

“While temperatures may have been rising, retailers are being frozen out. Summer is proving to be something of a disaster for shops.”

– Belgium: more road accidents –

The Belgian road safety authority VIAS reported an increase in the number of road accidents as a result of the heatwave.

“The daily average number of accidents is 15 percent higher during a heatwave. And the accidents are more serious,” VIAS spokesman, Stef Willems, was quoted by Belgian media as saying.

– Poland: drownings –

As many in Poland look for a cool respite from the scorching weather, the police said nearly 250 people had drowned since the beginning of April, including 75 in July alone. Police blamed alcohol-fuelled swims in unsupervised areas.

– Italy: free bottles of water –

In the Italian capital, already well-equipped with free drinking water fountains, the authorities are handing out bottles of water to tourists.

The national farmers’ union, Coldiretti, said that milk production was down 15 percent as cows suffered from the heat. At the same time, ice cream consumption was up 30 percent over the past week, the union said.