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Englishmen Go Out in the Midday Sun

The British aren't so impervious to heat as temperatures soar past 100, breaking a record. In Italy, the pope urges prayers for rain.

August 11, 2003|From Associated Press

LONDON — Britain sweltered through its hottest day on record Sunday, breaking 100 degrees for the first time, and melting Alpine glaciers created an avalanche hazard as a heat wave baked Europe.

The heat and drought-driven fires across the continent prompted Pope John Paul II to urge prayers for rain.

"It is just miserable. You can't get any respite from it," said Londoner Ranald Davidson, squinting in the late afternoon sun.

The national weather service recorded 100.22 degrees at Heathrow Airport outside London and 100.58 degrees at Gravesend, Kent, in southern England. Britain began gathering temperature data about 130 years ago, and Cheltenham in central England had held the previous record of 98.8 since 1990.

Northern parts of the country were cooler, but torrential rain created problems in North Yorkshire.

Across the continent, more than 40 deaths -- including that of a 3-year-old French girl who died in a parked car Sunday -- have been blamed on temperatures that have hovered in the 100-degree range for days.

The pope made his appeal at the papal palace in lakeside Castel Gandolfo, which is generally cooler than Rome. Drought-fed fires have plagued Italy, the Iberian Peninsula, France and arid areas of other countries.

"I invite all to join in my prayers for the victims of this calamity, and I exhort all to raise to the Lord fervent entreaties so that He may grant the relief of rain to the thirsty Earth," John Paul told pilgrims and tourists.

In northeastern Italy, firefighters worked for a third day to put out a blaze in the countryside near Udine.

And firefighters continued to battle three blazes in Portugal, where brush fires have struck 15 of the nation's 18 districts. The government asked Spain for two planes to help tackle a wildfire near Portimao.

In the French Alps, a police officer warned hikers about avalanches along a popular route on Mont Blanc. Glacial ice is melting, loosening rocks from the mountainside. On Saturday, helicopters evacuated 44 climbers in danger, police said.

Germany was expected to remain hot until midweek; France was counting on at least another week of abnormally high temperatures; and Italian forecasters expect their country to be steamy through August.

In Britain, the higher than normal temperatures were expected to continue this week. The unaccustomed stretch of very hot weather sent Britons in search of some respite.

In coastal towns, where beachgoers are often wrapped in cardigans as they await the sun, tens of thousands bared nearly all.

Senior seafront inspector Brian Cunnings in the town of Bournemouth said: "Our capacity on the seafront is about 100,000, and there is no spare sand here today."

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