Three-week heatwave claims 64 lives in France
PARIS, July 27, 2006 (AFP) - France and Italy on Thursday reported new victims of a lethal heatwave that has engulfed Europe for the last two weeks, bringing the total death toll to more than 80 people.
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 Celsius 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 500 million euros (637 million dollars).
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 seven centimetres (2.8 inches) 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 30 degrees Celsius on Thursday, after storms the night before, and a motorway was closed after concrete sections cracked and lifted in the heat.
The A5 highway near the western city of Frankfurt was set to undergo emergency repairs overnight Friday after pieces of the surface lifted 20 to 30 centimetres.
Temperatures in Germany were expected to reach 38 degrees Celsius 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 attended by the Paris fire service.
Farmers in France, the Netherlands, Poland, and Latvia have all warned about the impact of the heat on their harvests this summer.
On Thursday, a leading mushroom expert in the Czech Republic raised the alarm, saying that one of the nation’s favourite hobbies, picking mushrooms, was being endangered by the drought.
“The situation is really very bad,” expert Miroslav Smotlacha told the news agency CTK.
About two thirds of Czech people are thought to pick wild mushrooms on a fairly regular basis, but this year a lack of rain has stunted growth of the edible fungi.
In France, there was also a warning that the heat had hit lavender plantations, the fragrant crop that forms part of the identity of the Provence region in southeast France.
Maryse Milesi, head of the National Federation of Lavender Producers, said that crops would be 10-30 percent lower than normal in the southeast.
In Spain, where nine people have died so far from the heat, temperatures fell by two to five degrees Celsius on Thursday, particularly in the north where storms and rain were expected.
Subject: French news