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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 July, 2004, 14:04 GMT 15:04 UK
Spain in grip of fresh heatwave
Spain 2003 heatwave
Spain's scorching summer of 2003 was matched across Europe
Spain and Portugal are in the grip of a heatwave which in places has already topped last year's high temperatures.

The Spanish capital, Madrid, has been sweltering in temperatures up to 39.3C (103F) - a 73-year high.

A 48-year-old man is thought to have died of heatstroke as temperatures hit 40C (104F) elsewhere, and electricity demand has hit record levels.

In Portugal, homes in the southern Algarve region had to be evacuated as forest fires raged in the searing heat.

In France - where last year's heatwave killed thousands - the cabinet was discussing precautions to take against a repeat of the weather.

Electricity consumption in Spain hit record highs due to an increased use of air conditioning and fridges, said utility operators Red Electrica de Espana (REE).

The operator said consumption reached a peak of 36,800 megawatts on Wednesday, beating the previous record of 36,700 megawatts set only a day earlier.

The surge in demand caused brief power cuts in southern Spain.

Health Minister Elena Salgado urged Spaniards to conserve their electricity.

"So that we don't suffer from the lack of electricity... let's turn off the air conditioners when they're not necessary," she said.

Alert levels

As temperatures hit 40C in Seville province, in the south of the country, the authorities declared a red alert - the highest level of a recently introduced heatwave emergency scheme.

As well as the death of the man from Ciudad Real, south of Madrid - the first apparent victim of the heatwave - six people were said to have been taken to hospital in Andalucia.

Last summer's heatwave claimed 141 lives, said the Spanish government.

In Portugal, residents in the Tavira region of southern Algarve were being evacuated on Thursday from the path of a forest fire that had burned for 24 hours.

Some 160 firefighters, with 34 vehicles and two water-dropping aircraft, were tackling the blaze, Antonio Gauldino of the National Rescue Operation Centre told TSF radio.

Rescuers were battling a total of nine separate fires across the country on Wednesday, according to French news agency AFP.

In an alert system, also recently introduced, levels were raised from normal to yellow - a warning to hospitals to prepare for increased numbers of heat-affected patients.

France too is concerned about a repeat of last summer's heatwave, which is thought to have claimed the lives of more than 11,000 people.

The cabinet was meeting on Thursday to discuss precautionary measures.

The government has already announced 10,000 new health jobs and 15,000 extra hospital beds in response to the crisis.


SEE ALSO:
2003 summer hottest in 500 years
05 Mar 04  |  Europe
Europe tackles freak weather risk
25 Jun 04  |  Science/Nature


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