Europe's heatwave: Eurostar trains breaks down as records tumble in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany

James Rothwell
Two men cool off in a public fountain near the Atomium during a summer hot day in Brussels - AP

Eurostar trains broke down, tigers in zoos were fed chicken ice cubes, and France warned that Notre-Dame was at the risk of collapse on Wednesday, as Europe sweltered under a record-breaking heatwave.

For the second time in a month, a high pressure system drew scorching air from the Sahara desert, breaking heat records for Belgium, the Netherlands and Germany, while France risked doing the same.

In the Netherlands, the temperature reached 39.1C, breaking the previous record of 38.6C set in August 1944, while in Belgium, the mercury struck 38.9C, beating the previous high of 36.6C from June 1947 in records dating back to 1833.

In Germany the temperature soared to 40.5C in western Geilenkirchenthe, surpassing the previous record of 40.3 (104.5)

In Paris, the chief architect of historical monuments warned that the intense heat risked bringing down Notre-Dame cathedral, which was ravaged by a fire in April.

Two men cool off in a public fountain near the Atomium during a summer hot day in Brussels Credit: AP

“What I fear is that the joints or the masonry, as they dry, lose their cohesion... and all of a sudden, the vault gives way,” said Philippe Villeneuve, explaining that the cathedral’s stone walls were still saturated with water from firemens’ hoses.

Specialists are working to stabilise the cathedral's structure before reconstruction work begins. At Pairi Daiza zoo in western Belgium, keepers fed chickens inside giant ice cubes to tigers and iced watermelons to their bears.

Paris is facing its hottest day on Thursday with the French capital's 70-year-plus record of 40.4C forecast to fall. 

"It's too much for us," said Sven Schenk, 29, a logistics worker from Germany who was visiting Paris. "We're not looking forward to tomorrow! But we haven't changed our plans."

People cool off at the Trocadero Fountains next to the Eiffel Tower in Paris Credit: AFP

One Eurostar train broke down in Belgium due to a power failure, leaving hundreds of passengers stranded in 40C heat with no air conditioning.  

Eurostar said travellers were stuck for three hours before they were rescued by another train, and issued an apology.

In Spain, a wildfire in the northern province of Zaragoza was almost under control, but there was a risk of further outbreaks, especially in eastern parts, where the temperature was set to rise as high as 41C.

Italian authorities issued fire alerts for the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, where temperatures were expected to climb above 40C. They also put 13 cities on their highest "red" weather alert,  warning of a possible health threat for everyone - not just the frail and infirm.

A boy plays in a fontaine in Berlin, Germany Credit: AP

In Portugal, the largest fire so far this year, which raged over the weekend, was put out by more than 1,000 firefighters on Tuesday, but the country remained on high alert.

Dutch media said hundreds of pigs died when a ventilator failed at Middelharnis.

This summer's second heatwave has amplified concerns in Europe that human activity is heating the planet at a dangerous rate.

The June 26-28 blast of heat in France was 4C hotter than an equally rare June heatwave would have been in 1900, the World Weather Attribution (WWA) team said this month.

One study by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology said the deadly, weeks-long heatwave across northern Europe in 2018 would have been statistically impossible without climate change.

Swedish teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has highlighted the problem of global warming through school strikes, warned MPs at France's parliament of dire consequences if "business as usual" continues until 2030.

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