July 19, 2006

Scramble to save lives as heatwave hits Europe

By Tim Castle

LONDON -- Authorities scrambled to save lives in a heatwave in northern Europe on Wednesday, hoping to avoid a repeat of the hot weather in 2003 that killed 15,000 people in France and 2,000 in Britain.

In France, an 85-year-old man admitted to hospital and an 81-year-old woman found dead in her home were the first people believed to have died there because of the heat.

"We must be vigilant and still more vigilant," said Health Minister Xavier Bertrand. "And pay more attention to the vulnerable and those who live alone."

The mayor of Paris announced free residential parking and advised people to avoid motorized transport to reduce the danger of ozone pollution.

In Britain, temperatures were expected to top 37 degrees Celsius (98.6 Fahrenheit), hitting an all-time high for July.

The government launched an emergency plan of extra visits to elderly and vulnerable people.

Bookmakers stopped taking bets that temperatures would soar above 100 degrees Fahrenheit (37.77C) for what would be only the second time on record.

At Buckingham Palace, officials laid on plenty of water for 8,000 guests at a garden party for military veterans after several guests at a similar palace event fainted on Tuesday.

"There is shade for them, all the marquees are used, there's lots of helpers on hand for any guests who may feel unwell," a palace spokesman said.

The House of Commons issued a special "shirt-sleeve order" allowing journalists covering parliament to break with convention and enter the chamber without a jacket.

The searing heat and expected storms later in the week threatened to damage northern Europe's wheat crop just days before the harvest, which will push up prices, analysts said.

France and Germany were the main countries affected. The harvests in southern Europe have already finished.

In Holland, organizers canceled a four-day walking event after two participants died of the heat on Tuesday. Firemen have handed out water to drivers stuck in traffic jams.

In Ireland, firefighters battled a gorse blaze close to a popular beach south of Dublin on Tuesday evening after temperatures pushed above 30 degrees Centigrade for the first time in more than a decade.