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Last Updated: Sunday, 10 August, 2003, 23:17 GMT 00:17 UK
Pope leads prayers for rain
Men spray water at each other to cool down in Paris street
Forecasters have warned the heat is set to continue
Pope John Paul II has led prayers for rain as temperatures across Europe continue to soar.

Speaking to hundreds of pilgrims and tourists visiting him at his summer residence south of Rome, the Pope expressed sorrow for deaths caused by the relentless heat.

He also regretted the damage wreaked on the environment by forest fires which have destroyed woodland from Portugal to the Netherlands and Greece.

Forecasters have warned that the high temperatures are unlikely to drop until mid-August.

"I ask you to join me in my prayer for the victims of this calamity and urge all of you to ask the Lord fervently to grant the thirsty Earth the coolness of rain," the Pope said.

He was speaking in Castel Gandolfo - a lakeside town where the weather is generally much cooler for the 83-year-old Pontiff.

Raging wildfires

Temperatures across the continent have regularly exceeded 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) over the past two weeks, leading to some 40 deaths.

Elephant is doused with water to keep it cool at zoo in Germany
It is not just humans who are suffering in the heat
Summer fires have also destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of pinewood and brush across the continent, most of it in Portugal.

They are still burning in Spain, Croatia, Romania, Greece, the Netherlands, Italy, and France.

The extreme heat is being partly attributed to intense monsoon activity in sub-Saharan Africa which has poured hot desert air over Europe while keeping out cooler Atlantic lows.

Also across Europe:

  • In the Netherlands, there were concerns over possible power blackouts on Monday as demand for air-conditioning threatened to outstrip the power supply

  • In the Paris area firefighters say they are dealing with 600 calls every day for people suffering from the heat

  • More than one million chickens have also died in France because of the heat

  • In Norway, the month of July is said to be the hottest ever recorded

  • The UK recorded its highest ever temperature, with a temperature of 38.1 Celsius (100.6 Fahrenheit) in Gravesend, Kent.



WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Rob Parsons
"Europe is burning from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean"




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