Europe Wracked By Extreme Weather, Over 500 Die From Heat | Europe| News and current affairs from around the continent | DW | 25.07.2007
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Europe Wracked By Extreme Weather, Over 500 Die From Heat

As Britain grapples with massive flooding, drinking water shortages and a shaky power supply, other parts of Europe are wilting under scorching temperatures. Up to 500 Hungarians and 30 Romanians have died from the heat.

People trying to extinguish a forest fire in Macedonia

People trying to extinguish a forest fire in Macedonia

Across central and western England, high waters have flooded at least 4,500 homes, threatened many more and left cars submerged.

Crop-harvesting has been delayed and milk production has dropped, triggering fears of possible food shortages.

Flood waters have begun receding in the worst hit areas of England, but the Environment Agency still has six severe flood warnings in effect.

A tractor drives across a flooded field

Flooded crops could cause food shortage in England

Renewed rain forecasts for later in the week have people bracing themselves for more trouble.

Britain has been wrestling with the worst floods in 60 years, with emergency services having evacuated people from hundreds of homes in the the university city of Oxford as the River Thames broke its banks.

People have had to shelter in Oxford's soccer stadium.

Authorities said that in Gloucestershire, the western English county worst hit by the deluge, up to 350,000 people could be without running water for the next two weeks.

The army has meanwhile been called in to distribute millions of bottles of water as eager families lined up for supplies and loaded them onto supermarket carts.

Close call

An electricity sub-station under water near Tewkesbury

An electricity sub-station under water near Tewkesbury

One power distribution station at Walham was nearly flooded while emergency workers frantically tried to shore it up as water came within six inches of breaching defenses.

That would have left up to 500,000 people without electricity and plunged hospitals, shops and homes into chaos.

High waters transformed the historic market town of Tewkesbury into an island.

Lifeboats were seen floating down the town's main street.

Britain's Environment Secretary Hilary Benn has warned that the crisis is not over, and said that it already caused "considerable human distress."

In Tewkesbury, one teenage boy is still missing, one man died in a flooded cellar and a woman trapped in the floods lost her premature newborn twins despite being airlifted out.

" Britain must do more"

Volunteers try to stop a forest fire in Italy

Volunteers try to stop a forest fire in Italy

Meanwhile, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown has acknowledged that infrastructure deficits exist.

"We are looking at 21st century extreme weather conditions," he told BBC Television on Tuesday, after reviewing how emergency services were trying to cope with the flooding that has wracked huge sections of central and western England.

Brown said Britain must do more to boost its flood defenses.

The British government has promised 10 million pounds ($20.5 million, 14.8 million euros) in aid for the stricken areas, on top of the 14 million pounds initially pledged by the premier.

As debate heated up over whether authorities could have done more to prevent the massive floods, a Channel 4 Television opinion poll showed that only eight percent blamed the British government for the disaster.

Instead, 25 percent said climate change was the cause of the catastrophe, while 61 percent actually called it a freak event.

Record tem per atures and forest fires

People in a swimming pool

Trying to stay cool in Bulgaria

In central and southeast Europe, people are struggling with the other extreme. Up to 500 Hungarians are estimated to have died last week as temperatures soared to nearly 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit).

Record-breaking temperatures also killed up to 30 Romanians.

One man in Macedonia and another man on the island of Corfu also died from the heat.

Meanwhile, firefighters, soldiers and volunteers are battling wildfires as southeastern Europe has become a tinderbox.

In southern Italy, thousands of tourists became trapped on beaches in the Puglia region as a bush fire spread quickly. The fire forced people to flee from campsites and hotels.

Tourists had to be rescued via patrol boats and helicopters.

Authorities said at least two people were caught in the fires and burned alive in their car, while another pair on a beach suffocated.

The heat wave is reminiscent of that in France in 2003, when scorching temperatures led to the early deaths of up to 15,000 mainly elderly people.

The effects of climate change?

A woman splashes water on herself

A zest for cooling off in Italy

Forests in Bosnia, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia, Bulgaria and Greece have also been ravaged by fires this week, blamed on record-high temperatures following a dry winter.

Temperatures in Macedonia have reached an all-time record high of 45 degrees, with many parts of the country without power as high consumption, likely from the use of air-conditioning units, overloaded transmission lines, officials said.

Authorities in the Balkans warned people to stay indoors to avoid the extreme heat.

The extreme weather has prompted debate about whether the effects of global warming are at hand.

"Extreme events such as we have seen in recent weeks herald the specter of climate change and it would be irresponsible to imagine that they won't become more frequent," Nick Reeves, the executive director of The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, told Reuters new agency.

However, Alastair Borthwick, an Oxford University engineering professor, told Reuters that more data was needed to judge whether climate change was a factor in the flooding in Britain.

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