France postpones national diploma exams as Europe endures 'record' heatwave

France is expecting the hottest temperatures for a month of June in this week's heatwave since detailed records began in 1947 - AFP
France is expecting the hottest temperatures for a month of June in this week's heatwave since detailed records began in 1947 - AFP

Tourists wilted in Paris and Rome, Germans were forced to slow down on notoriously speedy autobahns and French schools postponed exams on Tuesday as Europe felt the brunt of a scorching heatwave expected to last all week and break records.

Hot air from the Sahara will send temperatures above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in several locations around the continent on Thursday and Friday - the highest point of the heat spike - meteorologists warned.

Experts say such heatwaves early in the summer are likely to be more frequent as global warming continues in coming decades unless fossil fuel use is drastically reduced.

In Germany, where forecasters have warned a June record of 38.5C could be smashed, temporary 100 kmh (62mph) speed limits have been imposed on some usually unregulated stretches of Autobahn, for fear the road surface may break up in the heat and become unsafe.

A forest fire raged yesterday north of Cottbus, the second-largest city in Brandenburg state, in an area already hit in 2018.

The blaze was deemed particularly dangerous due to unexploded ammunition left in the area, which is home to a military training facility.

A man walks by as tourists take selfies on the French Riviera city of Nice on June 24, 2019, as temperatures soar to 33 degrees Celsius.  - Credit:  VALERY HACHE/AFP
Half of France is on "orange alert" - one off the top red alert for dangerous weather conditions Credit: VALERY HACHE/AFP

Meanwhile, schools closed early and Germans flocked to the lakes to cool off.

In Austria, Vienna's famous horse-drawn carriages were off the streets on Tuesday after the animals were stabled to protect them from the sun.

Temperatures are expected to be particularly unbearable in the northeast of Spain, with a stifling 45C expected Friday in the city of Girona, and 44C in Zaragoza at the weekend.

Five northern provinces were placed on an orange alert for a heatwave on Wednesday, with another five to be added by the weekend.

"Hell is coming," tweeted TV weather presenter Silvia Laplana. "Of course it's hot in summer but when you have a heatwave that is so extensive and intense, during which records are forecast to be beaten, it's NOT normal."

France, meanwhile, took the rare step of postponing end-of-school exams to next week, when temperatures of up to 40C will finally start falling. Le Brevet, a national diploma taken by 14-year-olds, was set for this Thursday and Friday.

Meteo France, the national weather forecaster, has placed two-thirds of France on “orange alert” - one off the top-scale red. In an eerie symbol of the rising heat, one meteorologist pointed out that one real-time satellite graphic of the heatwave resembled human skull, likening it to Edvard Munch’s angst-ridden painting, The Scream.

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Scarred by a heatwave in August 2003 blamed for 15,000 deaths, many of them elderly people, authorities are taking no chances with Emmanuel Macron, the French president, promising the “whole government” was focused on the crisis.

With the Right-wing politicians suggesting the government was overdoing it, Agnès Buzyn, the health minister, said: "This isn't scaremongering.”

"I'm asking everyone to take responsibility for themselves, their family and their neighbours and to avoid a backlog in emergency rooms due to people taking unnecessary risks."

Paris authorities have banned older models of diesel and petrol cars from Paris on Wednesday, fearing a build-up of pollution.

People cool off in the Trocadero fountains across from the Eiffel Tower in Paris as a heatwave is expected in much of the country - Credit: PHILIPPE WOJAZER/Reuters
Paris is creating special "cool rooms" for residents who can't take the heat Credit: PHILIPPE WOJAZER/Reuters

Public spaces such as town halls and government offices will open up air-conditioned spaces for anyone finding it hard to cope while 18 city parks will remain open overnight and swimming pools open late.

In a rare gesture by football world governing body FIFA on Monday evening, fans were allowed to bring their own bottles of water into the Paris stadium where Sweden took on Canada.

Players may also have to observe cooling off periods should temperatures soar, even if Phil Neville, the England coach, said: “There's no excuse, the players are ready for it.”

Italy is also preparing for an exceptionally hot week, with the mercury expected to rise to 43C (109F) in some areas and hit the highest temperatures for more than a century in parts, meteorologists warned.

At the coastal town of Eloro in Sicily, 41 cars were engulfed in flames on Monday after a fire broke out close to a car park where beachgoers had left their vehicles.

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