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EU rushes firefighters to Greece as grueling Mediterranean heat takes toll

‘This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible’
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A general view of burnt forests on the mountains in Mandra, west of Athens, Greece, on Wednesday, July 19, 2023. Wildfire evacuations have continued for a third day outside the Greek Capital as a second heat wave hit the Mediterranean country from the west after days of record-high temperatures baked southern Europe. (AP Photo/Thanassis Stavrakis)

Fire planes and ground crews from several European countries are heading to Greece where wildfires have intensified as relentless heat wave conditions are keeping much of southern Europe above 40 degrees Celsius.

Firefighting teams from Poland, Romania and Slovakia are due in Greece on Thursday, while Israel has pledged two firefighting aircraft, adding to the four planes from Italy and France already operating outside Athens.

New evacuations were ordered on Wednesday as wildfires raged near the Greek capital. A second heat wave hit the Mediterranean country from the west following days of record-high temperatures that baked southern Europe.

In a round-the-clock battle to preserve forests, industrial facilities, and vacation homes, evacuations continued for a third day along a highway connecting Athens to the southern city of Corinth.

Temperatures in southern Greece are expected to reach 44 C (111 F) by the end of the week, in the second heat wave to hit Europe’s Mediterranean south in two weeks.

Alessandro Miani, who heads the Italian Society of Environmental Doctors, warned that aging populations in Italy and other southern European countries are a concern during heat waves, noting that deaths due to high temperatures most commonly affect people over age 80.

“The excessive heat together with humidity can make difficult for sweat to evaporate, interfering with the body’s ability to regulate its own temperature,” Miani said.

The heat in Rome eased only slightly after a sweltering 42-43 C (107-109 F) on Tuesday, while highs in Sicily and Sardinia reached 46 C (114 F). Parts of Spain were as high as 45 C (113 F) on Wednesday. Amador Cortes, a resident in the southern Spanish city of Jaen, said people were doing their best to avoid the sun during midday hours and the early afternoon.

“The truth is, they take shelter at home with the air conditioning, with the fan. In the street, the elderly suffer a lot. Anyway, we have to put up with it,” he said.

In the southern Turkish city of Adana, a group of residents handed out desserts in the street, and many paid tribute to the late U.S. engineer Willis Carrier, who invented the air conditioner in 1902.

“The people of Adana really need air conditioners. God bless him for making such an invention,” city resident Mehmet Saygin told Turkey’s DHA news agency.

The latest heat wave prompted renewed concern over the impact of extreme summer heat. The World Meteorological Organization, a United Nations body, said preliminary global figures showed the month of June to be the hottest on record.

“The extreme weather, an increasingly frequent occurrence in our warming climate, is having a major impact on human health, ecosystems, economies, agriculture, energy and water supplies,” WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said Wednesday.

“This underlines the increasing urgency of cutting greenhouse gas emissions as quickly and as deeply as possible.”

Countries with borders on the Mediterranean Sea weren’t alone in suffering. Authorities in North Macedonia extended a heat alert with predicted temperatures topping 43 C (109 F), while Kosovo also issued heat warnings. Powerful storms that followed a string of extremely hot days caused chaos in Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia late Tuesday, toppling trees, tearing roofs off buildings and causing power outages.

Emergency services in the three countries reported hundreds of interventions as the storm swept through the region. It also brought a much-sought relief from the heat. The firefighters were being sent to Greece as part of a European Union civil protection mechanism that includes the planned deployment of international crews to parts of southern Europe over the summer.

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