MADRID • Europe sweltered yesterday in intense heat with temperatures due to hit near-record highs of 46 deg C in Portugal, while elsewhere high temperatures melted the asphalt or saw police dogs fitted with shoes.
The heatwave was expected to reach its peak yesterday, said Ms Paula Leitao of the Portuguese Institute for Sea and Atmosphere, with the city of Setubal - not far from Lisbon - due to reach highs of 46 deg C during the day.
By way of comparison, this is not far off from the 48 deg C expected in California's notoriously parched and scorching Death Valley, one of the hottest places on earth, according to US forecaster AccuWeather.
This comes a day after 16 weather stations in Portugal registered record temperatures, including in Alcacer do Sal near Setubal, where the heat climbed to 45.9 deg C.
The authorities in Lisbon have closed playgrounds and called on people to avoid picnics and outdoor activities. Refuge facilities for homeless people have also opened earlier in the day to allow them to take shelter from the crushing heat.
In southern Spain, the heat continued to pound down, with the temperature in the city of Cordoba expected to reach 45 deg C.
The heat has already claimed the lives of three people over the past week.
A middle-aged man in Barcelona, whom the media said appeared to be homeless, was found collapsed on a street on Friday and taken to hospital where he later died of heatstroke, Catalonia's civil protection agency said in a statement.
Two other men - a road worker in his 40s and a 78-year-old pensioner tending to his vegetable garden - also died from heatstroke last week.
In Vienna, police dogs due to patrol a beach volleyball tournament were fitted with special little shoes.
Police said that even if temperatures were not excruciatingly hot, reaching just 34 deg C yesterday, the dogs would have to spend hours walking on surfaces exposed to the sun that could easily go over 50 deg C, hence the shoes.
The authorities in the Netherlands were forced to close certain sections of highways where the heat had melted the asphalt.
The central city of Zwolle, meanwhile, had started cutting the branches of some 100 poplar trees.
Dutch public television NOS explained that branches could break due to the heat and create danger for drivers or passers-by.
The heatwave also led to the closure of four nuclear reactors in France. French power company EDF said the measures were taken to avoid raising too high the temperature of rivers where nuclear plants draw water from to cool down reactors and then pour it back in.
Yesterday was also the summer's busiest day on the roads, as July holiday-makers returned home and those who vacation in August departed for their month of far niente.
By late morning, 670km of traffic jams had been reported, according to France's traffic authorities, as the heat pounded down on the asphalt.
Italy too faced the summer's busiest day on the roads for the same reason as France. Holiday-makers were expected to face adverse weather conditions wherever they went. In the north, the scorching heat beat down on cars while violent hailstorms were expected in the afternoon in the south.
But it was a cool respite for Sweden yesterday when rain showers poured across most parts of the country, following its hottest July in 250 years.
The mercury fell to more typical summer temperatures of around 20 to 25 deg C, the Swedish Meteorological and Hydrological Institute said.