ROME • Swathes of southern Europe have sweltered in a heatwave that has claimed several lives and cost billions in crop damage, with scientists warning the searing weather is a foretaste of the coming decades.
At least five deaths in Italy and Romania have been attributed to the extreme conditions since the heatwave set in around the start of this month.
Unusually high, sometimes unprecedented, temperatures are being recorded across an area spanning much of Spain, Portugal, southern France, Italy, Hungary and the Balkans.
The mercury has regularly risen above 40 deg C across the affected areas, exacerbating the impact of an extended drought and the lingering impact of a July heatwave, which sparked wildfires that claimed 60 lives in Portugal.
Hospital admissions have spiked 15 per cent to 20 per cent in Italy, where at least three people have died. Italians longing for the beach have dubbed the hot spell "Lucifero", or Lucifer, after the biblical archangel said to have been condemned forever to the flames of hell.
The latest victim was a woman whose car was swept away overnight by an avalanche of water and mud, as humid conditions near the Alpine ski resort of Cortina d'Ampezzo broke into torrential rain. That tragedy follows the deaths last Thursday of two pensioners caught in wildfires in the central region of Abruzzo and near Matera in the south of Italy.
In Romania, two deaths were linked to the weather, including a farm worker who collapsed after working in fields in the country's north-east.
In Italy, humidity and other factors are making it feel much hotter with the so-called "perceived" temperature in Campania, the region around Naples, estimated at a broiling 55 deg C last Friday. Italian food producers are forecast to suffer billions of euros in losses as a result of reduced crop yields.
In Rome, tourists have been risking recently introduced fines for splashing in the Eternal City's fountains to cool off.
But there has yet to be any sign of visitors to southern Europe's summer hot spots being deterred by the rising temperatures.
Tourists were queueing once more last Saturday outside Florence's Uffizi museum, which was forced to close the day before after its air-conditioning broke down due to a lack of water from the dried-up River Arno.
Over in France, the health authorities have warned citizens to be particularly aware of the risks faced by the sick and the elderly.
Meanwhile, scientists warned that deaths due to extreme weather in Europe could increase 50-fold from an estimated 3,000 per year recently to 152,000 by the end of this century - if global warming is not reined in.
Southern Europe will suffer most, and heatwaves would account for 99 per cent of the deaths, according to research conducted for the European Commission and published in The Lancet Planetary Health journal.
Scientists warned earlier this month that large parts of South Asia, home to a fifth of the world's population, could become unbearably hot by the end of this century.