Ice cubes for baboons as Europe feels the heat

European countries including France, Britain and the Netherlands are bracing for a heatwave.

Thirty-year-old Maria, from Spain, enjoys the refreshment of the fountain in Southbank, London as Britain prepares for the hottest day in nine years on Wednesday. Frank Augstein/AP Photo
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PARIS // The mercury was pushing 40ºC across much of northern Europe on Wednesday as a blistering heatwave saw blackouts in France and emergency ice cream handed out to lemurs at a Dutch zoo.

As the hot front continued its sweep up from Africa, the UN warned heatwaves were growing more frequent and intense due to climate change, and called on more countries to put warning systems in place to inform people of the dangers.

At the Safaripark Beekse Bergen zoo in The Netherlands, staff had already put their emergency procedures in place -- including ice cubes for baboons, cold showers for the elephants, and fruit-flavoured ice cream for the ring-tailed lemurs.

Around a million homes in western France were left without power overnight Tuesday after the heatwave moved in from Spain, and another blackout struck the western Vannes region on Wednesday morning, cutting electricity to 100,000 houses.

“At this temperature, we can’t stay on a roof. It’s overwhelming,” said Laurent Floux, a roofer in Paris, who got his team working at the crack of dawn to avoid the worst of the heat.

Schools across Europe shifted their start times to keep kids out of the sun’s glare.

In central London, public fountains became impromptu beaches, with parents sunbathing on benches and children playing in the water.

The first death linked to the heatwave was reported in the British press after a father drowned while trying to save his young daughter cooling off in a river in the northern Cumbria region.

The Muslim Council of Britain warned people fasting for Ramadan to take extra care, and said Islamic law allowed the sick and vulnerable to break the daytime fast during extreme conditions.

* Agence France-Presse