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Heat Wave Kills Dozens In Southeastern Europe

Temperatures in the 40s have strained public services (file photo) (Courtesy Photo) July 25, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- A major heat wave continues today across Southeastern Europe after record temperatures on July 24 that killed at least 12 people in Romania.

Romanian Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu said at least 30 people -- including another 12 on July 24 -- have died over the past several days from the heat. Hundreds of others, mostly elderly, had collapsed in the streets as the temperature hovered over 40 degrees.

Temperatures in the country's south reached record levels on July 24, with the town of Calafat on the Bulgarian border hitting 44 degrees Celsius.

The heat wave triggered severe power outages in Bucharest, where the outdated electricity grid was overcharged because of the high usage of air conditioners.

"Right now it's not that hot anymore, but yesterday was the hottest," Bucharest resident Maria Mihat told RFE/RL today.

"It was 40 degrees Celsius indoors yesterday. We had problems with the electricity," she added. "From eight in the evening until three in the morning there was no electricity, so fans and air conditioning did not work."

Hot weather and continued drought also threatened Romanian agriculture. Wheat production reportedly dropped 20 percent in comparison to the five-year average. Similar drops were seen in corn and sunflower production, with rapeseed falling by as much as 50 percent.

Heat Wave, Fires Sweep Region

In Macedonia, one person died and 20 were evacuated from burning houses near Bitola, the country's second-largest city, as temperatures reached 42 Celsius amid a declared national emergency.

Thousands of firefighters and local residents battled into July 24 to contain the huge blaze, while President Branko Crvenkovski ordered army units mobilized to help with the effort. Firefighting airplanes and helicopters were expected to arrive on July 24 from Croatia, Turkey, and Austria.

In Hungary, authorities said the high temperatures may have hastened the deaths of up to 500 sick and elderly people between July 15 and 22.

The heat triggered forest fires around Budapest as well. Firefighter Antal Erdos said the fires were serious. "It seems we have had the biggest open-air fire of the past decades in Budapest," he said.

In Serbia, thousands of hectares of forest were also reported destroyed by wildfires.

All of Albania was without power on July 24 due to a defect in a transmission line importing power from neighboring Macedonia, the energy minister said, worsening summer-long power shortages.

Buried ordnance from wars past posed another, unexpected threat for firefighters.

In Italy, temperatures reached 40 degrees today, and dozens of fires continued to rage unabated, after killing four people and destroying hundreds of hectares of forest.

Greek state services remained on alert as the country sweltered in temperatures up to 44 Celsius. Athens was expected to reach 45 Celsius today, with conditions worsened by high humidity and air-pollution levels. Power demand was at all-time highs due to high air-conditioner use.

Meteorologists said temperatures should begin to abate by July 26.

Flooding In Britain

Meanwhile, in the northwestern part of the continent, large swathes of southern and central Britain have been hit by severe flooding -- the worst in more than 60 years.

The university town of Oxford was the latest to be hit by the rising water of the River Thames, which burst its banks overnight following a surge of water flowing into it from tributaries. Up to 2,000 people in Oxford have been evacuated.

The Thames rose steadily overnight, and is expected to peak later today with towns like Reading, Henley and Windsor remaining vulnerable.

In Gloucestershire, in southwestern Britain, almost 350,000 people were without drinking water, after severe flooding earlier this week. The town of Tewkesbury was entirely cut off by the rising waters of the River Severn.

The army has been called in to distribute bottled water to residents who could face a prolonged spell without drinking water.

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