A temperature of 45.1C has been recorded in France, the hottest in the country’s history.
Measured in Villevieille, a commune in the southern region of Occitanie, the spike in temperature came as the country declared a “red alert” weather warning for the first time ever as a punishing heatwave swept across Europe.
Elsewhere in the country volunteers scoured the streets of Paris to provide water to homeless people in a bid to avoid civilian deaths, old cars were banned from the roads in four major cities due to pollution, and some 4,000 schools were closed.
Teachers at the Victor Hugo primary school in Colombes near Paris abandoned suffocating classrooms and are keeping children outside all day, spraying them with water to cool them down and organising quiet activities in the shade.
“I make them go in the playground with books, in the shade, they must stay seated,” said teacher Valerie Prevost. “We tell them to dampen their caps, to drink regularly.”
Four people died in drowning accidents attributed to thermal shock, the French Ministry of Solidarity and Health said in a statement.
Some accused the government of going overboard in its reaction, but the prime minister Edouard Philippe defended the efforts of authorities after 15,000 people died in a heatwave in 2003.
“This heatwave is exceptional by its intensity and its earliness,” he said. “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.”
Until Friday, the country’s hottest day on record in France had been 12 August 2003, when the mercury hit 44.1C during the deadly heatwave.
Temperature records for June were broken across central Europe, with meteorologists blaming the continent’s extreme weather on a bubble of scorching Saharan air, high pressures across the continent and a storm stalling over the Atlantic.
In Spain, heatstroke reportedly claimed the life of a 17-year-old farm worker, as he cooled off in a Cordoba swimming pool, and an 80-year-old man on a street in Valladolid.
The Italian Ministry of Health also issued a red alert warning in more than a dozen cities after a homeless man died of suspected heatstroke in the streets of Milan and another in the Marche region, Il Globo reported.
In Germany, a man was cautioned after being caught driving a scooter naked, apparently to cool down. And in Belgium, two English bulldogs died after being left in a car in Mons, veterinarian Pascal Lafosse told local media.
“We have known that heatwaves are getting worse due to climate change for a number of decades now,” Dann Mitchell, the atmospheric science lecturer at the University of Bristol, said.
“It is not clear whether or not climate change will cause these high-pressure weather patterns to alter in the future but either way the background atmospheric temperature is increasing, so heatwaves will be more extreme in the future.”
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