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Last Updated: Tuesday, 15 July, 2003, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Europe bakes in historic highs
Italian farmer surveys dried-up field
Italian fields have become dustbowls
Large swathes of Europe have been sweltering in exceptional summer heat - in some cases the highest for decades.

From Portugal to Finland, soaring temperatures and sunshine have brought delight to tourists but headaches for farmers and industry.

Swiss temperatures hit their highest for 200 years - reaching 37C (99F). Parts of glaciers were reported to be melting, lakes were reaching bath-like temperatures and some fish struggling for oxygen were being moved to cooler waters.

Helicopters moved about 70 people from the Matterhorn after a rock face crumbled at 3,400 metres (11,220 feet).

If Our Lord doesn't give us a hand then things are going to get really bad here
Italian priest
Cattle were being moved from from parched meadows around Zurich and Schaffhausen to Swiss mountain pastures - the first time since 1976 that farmers have been forced to do this.

In parts of southern France, farmers say there has been no rain for two months, and cattle are already being fed on their winter hay.

Monday's Bastille Day celebrations in Paris were the hottest since 1945, with temperatures above 35C (95F).

Deckchairs overlooking Mont Blanc.  Picture Ray Pritchard
Switzerland has never been so hot (Picture: Ray Pritchard)
And thirsty tourists at the Sacre Coeur basilica in Montmartre on Tuesday were paying street-sellers two euros for 25cl bottles of water.

For cyclists on the Tour de France, the intense heat forced some racers to unzip their close-fitting suits to try to cool off. Melting tarmac added to the race hazards, sending Spain's Joseba Beloki crashing to serious injury.

In sweltering Germany, one newspaper warned that Berlin and the surrounding area could become a desert within decades if global warming continued.

"Already parts of Brandenburg have become steppe-like," said the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

But Italy remains the worst-hit by the heatwave and by its problems.

The drought-stricken north may be only weeks away from a state of emergency, as water levels in the mighty River Po continue to drop.

As beautiful as Rome is, it makes it almost unbearable just to enjoy the sights
Tourist in Rome
Power cuts have been threatened and officials say choices will soon have to be made between using scarce water resources to irrigate crops or keep factories going. A television campaign is being launched to urge Italians to save water.

In the capital, Rome, temperatures of 36% (96F) left tourists searching out patches of shade rather than landmarks.

"The heat is excruciating," said one American visitor. "As beautiful as Rome is, it makes it almost unbearable just to enjoy the sights, but I am still having a good time."

Some who dared to take dips in the famous Trevi and Four Rivers' fountains were fined by police.

One Italian priest says his two churches will stay open round the clock for three days of prayers.

Italians beside dried-up river bed
Not a beach but a dried-up riverbed in Italy
"If Our Lord doesn't give us a hand then things are going to get really bad here," Don Angelo told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

UK temperatures were expected to hit 31C (87F).

Northern Europe has not escaped the heat.

Norway's capital, Oslo, was 27C (80F) on Tuesday and even further north it was 29.8C in the Finnish town of Utti, where the usual July average is 19C.

The drought has stretched far enough east to hit the Danube River.

Levels in Romanian stretches of the river have fallen so sharply that ships have been warned of the dangers of running aground.

In the Danube Delta, an estimated 10% percent of the area usually covered by water has become dry land, reports said.

Storm warning

A series of drownings have been reported from across Europe as people were tempted into unsafe waters to cool off.

The heatwave has already sparked dramatic thunderstorms in a number of countries including Russia, where residents in the far-eastern port of Vladivostok have been placed on rationed water supplies and Moscow was hit by storms on Sunday.

Parts of France were placed on "orange" level alert on Tuesday for violent storms expected to sweep in across the east.

Hailstorms and winds of up to 100km/h (64mph) are expected in the severe weather.

But there are places to get away from it all.

Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, was a cloudy 14C. And in Norway's Arctic Svalbard islands, temperatures were a refreshing and wet 7C.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Brian Barron
"Rivers are dropping at a rate of four inches a day"



SEE ALSO:
UK heatwave continues
15 Jul 03  |  UK
Emergency threat in dry Italy
14 Jul 03  |  Europe
Severe weather batters France
05 Jan 03  |  Europe
UK insurer to halt flood cover
12 Jun 02  |  Business



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