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Europe

Europe Suffers as Mercury Soars

Southern Europe is sweltering in a heat wave, raising the specter of a similar spell that killed thousands across the continent in 2003. Farmers and energy suppliers have been especially hard hit.

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Water levels in reservoirs are very low in Spain's Catalonia region

A heat wave that is threatening water supplies in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and the agriculture and energy industries are bearing the brunt of the difficulties.

After more than a week of high temperatures and following numerous dry months, crops are failing throughout Italy, particularly in the north.

Dramatic threat

"We can make it through to the middle of July, and hope for rain," said Guido Bertolaso, the head of the Italian civil defense. "But if there's no precipitation soon, the situation in the north will become dramatic."

Hitzewelle in Italien

Low water levels in Italy's Po river

The Piedmont region has seen the worst effects from the heat. The water level of Lake Maggiore has fallen by 19 centimeters (7.5 inches), while the Po river (photo) and Lake Garda have dangerously low water levels.

In addition, the energy supply is being overtaxed due to unusually high uses of air conditioners and fans. Local authorities fear it could lead to blackouts of the sort that came about in the extremely hot summer of 2003.

Italy aims to avoid deaths

So far, seven people have died in Italy as a result of the heat. On Monday, Italy revealed that the number of heat-related deaths two years ago was more than double the original estimate. Almost 20,000 people died throughout the country that year, the national statistics office Istat said.

Hitzewelle in Italien

Field irrigation in northern Italy

This year, four Italian cities -- Rome, Milan, Turin and Genoa -- are already under a health alert which involves placing some 10,000 mostly elderly people under surveillance as a preventive measure to curtail any medical crisis. A national telephone hotline giving the elderly information on how to survive the heat has also been put into place.

In Spain, meanwhile, seven regions have reacted to the drought by curtailing the water supply. Water pressure was reduced along much of the Mediterranean coast, and 890 villages in Catalonia are affected. In Elche, near Valencia, water can only be taken out of the tap for eight minutes each day.

Sweltering in Spain

Despite refreshing morning rainfall in Madrid on Monday, much of southern and central Spain has been sweltering in temperatures reaching 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) for weeks, though the weekend did bring some respite.

Dürre, anhaltenden Hitzewelle in Frankreich Südeuropa

Grapes in france are shriveling on the vine

The southern region of Andalucia has already put in place a text-messaging alert system to warn the elderly and the infirm living alone, as well as parents of very young children, of impending high temperatures above 41 Celsius.

Aside from the boiling temperatures, Spain has had to earmark 750 million euros ($911 million) of emergency aid for its farmers to tackle the country's worst drought for 60 years with rainfall 54 percent below average since the winter.

Portugal , France suffer

Neighboring Portugal has also been hard hit. The country's National Water Institute said some 80 percent of the country has been suffering from the worst drought in 60 years. Portuguese grain production is down 70 percent, and the lack of rain has caused farmers over one billion euros in damages and lost income. Wells have run dry in 25 villages where some 19,000 affected residents were being supplied with water by truck. More than 26,000 people are likely to have to deal with water rationing.

Dürre in der Normandie Frankreich ausgetrocknete Wiesen

Bare pastures for French cows

In France, which saw around 15,000 deaths in the summer of 2003, officials are scrambling to show that they learned from their past errors. There are emergency plans in effect in case of continued heat; for example, old-age homes need to have at least one large air-conditioned room to house elderly who are especially susceptible to heat stroke. In 28 regions of the country, especially in the west, water saving measures have been put in to effect.

Now authorities warn that it only seems a matter of time before widespread forest fires once again rage on the continent.

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