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Friday, July 3, 1998 Published at 16:37 GMT 17:37 UK

World: Europe

Med swelters under heatwave

Fire fighters near a forest blaze

Rocketing temperatures in the countries around the Mediterranean have caused a series of deaths and devastating forest fires.

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Unusually hot weather has persisted through most of the last few days in the central Mediterranean, with sirocco winds blowing hot air up from the Sahara desert in Africa.

Temperatures are not expected to fall until the end of the weekend.

At least seven people are reported to have died in central and southern Italy from heatstroke and related causes as temperatures reached as high as 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit).

On the island of Sardinia, forest fires have already destroyed 2,500 hectares of woodland - more than in any previous summer.

[ image: Several fire fighters have been injured]
Several fire fighters have been injured
Near Naples, a woodland fire spread to a car dump which exploded, injuring three firemen, two of them seriously.

Firemen are fighting at least 50 other outbreaks in various other parts of southern Italy, dumping water from fire-fighting planes.

In Greece at least four people have died and hundreds have been taken to hospital suffering from heatstroke and exhaustion.

The hottest spot was the southern town of Argos where the mercury hit 47 degrees Celsius (117 degrees Fahrenheit).

Pollution problems

The capital, Athens, was not far behind with a high of 43 degrees Celsius (110 degrees Fahrenheit), sending people scurrying to the ports to catch ferries to the relatively cooler islands.

Environment officials called on motorists not to use their cars as the city's notorious pollution cloud, the Nefos, hung overhead in its worse display so far this year.

[ image: Keeping cool without air conditioning]
Keeping cool without air conditioning
Levels of sulphur dioxide, ozone and nitrogen dioxide in the city have exceeded those at which the environment ministry usually calls for emergency measures.

The state electricity board cut power to several areas of Athens after residents turned their air-conditioning and fans up to full power.

In Cyprus, electricity consumption was at its highest level this year as people there also reached for the nearest air conditioners.

According to newspapers in Albania air conditioner sales in the capital Tirana are up 70%.

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