France hits hottest ever temperature as Europe swelters in heatwave

Red warnings have been issued to four regions in the country

A woman stands under a shower on the beach in Nice as a heatwave hits much of the country, France, June 28, 2019.  REUTERS/Eric Gaillard
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France registered its highest temperature since records began on Friday as a scorching heatwave engulfed much of southern and central Europe.

Temperatures reached 44.3°C in Carpentras, in the southern Vaucluse region of the country, beating the previous record of 44.1 °C centigrade registered in 2003.

The French government sprang into action as temperatures climbed, a far cry from its sluggish reaction to the 2003 heatwave which killed 15,000 people, many of them elderly.

"This heat wave is exceptional by its intensity and its earliness," Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told reporters.

"Measures have been taken for the most vulnerable people, but given the intensity of the heat wave, it's the entire population who must be careful today ... both for oneself and for loved ones and neighbours."

Europe’s extreme weather alarm system, Meteoalarm, has issued Orange Alerts to much of the country and Red Alerts - the strongest warning level - to four southern regions. This is the first time the Red Alert has been used for France since the warning system was put in place, and will result in those regions being closely watched by weather services and various authorities.

Meteoalarm warned locals to drink plenty of water, wear a hat and light clothes and stay inside during peak sunlight hours. It also asked citizens to check on their elderly neighbours twice a day throughout the heatwave.

Three people have died already in the searing heat, through contact with water.

A 70-year-old man is believed to have suffered a heart attack after coming into contact with cold water, while a 62-year-old woman and a 75-year-old man died in separate locations by the sea.

Authorities have warned people of the dangers of taking a dip in cold waters during the heatwave, when the shock of a plunge in temperature can cause “hydrocution”.

Over 4000 schools have been closed during the blistering temperatures, though some have taken to teaching under the shade of trees to escape stuffy classrooms.

"I make them go in the playground with books, in the shade, they must stay seated," said Valerie Prevost, a teacher at Victor Hugo Primary School in Colombes near Paris. "We tell them to dampen their caps, to drink regularly."

Meteorologists have said humidity will add to the feeling of suffocating heat.

"The mercury will already reach incredible temperatures but with the humidity level in the air, the feeling will be terrible,” Meteorologist Guillaume Séchet told Le Parisien.

"While we will have almost 40°C in Paris, the atmosphere will be so heavy that we will feel the heat as if it were 47°C."

European governments have joined France in issuing warnings to citizens and taking action to try and mitigate the dangers of rising temperatures.

A major wildfire raged Friday in Spain, sparked when a pile of chicken dung spontaneously combusted in the heat. Six hundred firefighters and six water-dropping aircraft are battling the blaze, which authorities say is the worst fire in two decades.

Italy put 16 cities under alerts for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists visiting famed sites around Rome under a scorching sun.

In Berlin, a police unit turned water cannons — usually used against rioters — on city trees, to cool them down.