Billions of dollars in damage has been wreaked by freak weather across Europe in the past week.
The death toll from the heat, fires, floods and storms has mounted to the high hundreds, with many thousands more made homeless or having their lives disrupted by weather conditions that have smashed records in many countries across the continent.
Agriculture and tourism have been particularly badly hit, with crops scorched in some areas, waterlogged in others, and tourists forced to flee fires in the south and storms and torrential downpours in northern countries. Electricity blackouts and water shortages caused by fire and flood and affecting hundreds of thousands of households and businesses have compounded the chaos.
In Greece, temperatures have reached 43°C, compared with an average for the time of year of about 35°C, and widespread forest fires have brought chaos. Black-outs have exacerbated the problem.
Seven Greek passenger trains were halted on the tracks for several hours during a black-out on Tuesday. On Thursday, the government told civil servants to go home early in a desperate attempt to cut demand for electricity.
Tourists across the south-eastern part of Europe have faced severe disruption to their holiday plans, with hotels evacuated in fire-stricken areas and some roads rendered too dangerous to travel.
Hundreds of deaths in the region have also been attributed to heatstroke. Though Greece has managed largely to avoid such problems by opening air-conditioned clubs where the elderly can rest, in Hungary officials said about 500 people, mostly elderly, were thought to have died. Romania also reported people collapsing in the street, with at least 27 people thought to have died from heatstroke.
The heatwave has also highlighted problems in south-east Europe’s energy sector. The west Balkan grid has been starved of investment for more than a decade, while hydro-power units are running below capacity because of a prolonged drought. Bulgaria, the region’s main back-up supplier, has cut electricity exports this year by more than 70 per cent following the shut-down in January of two units at the Kozloduy nuclear plant on the Danube, as a condition of European Union accession.
Bulgaria has seen previous weather records smashed as temperatures of 44°C sparked dozens of wildfires around the country in the past two weeks. On Thursday, authorities reported 345 wildfires in the country in the previous 24 hours, including 70 that resulted in damage to private property. Two people were reported killed in the fires, while four more were injured.
The Serbian labour ministry imposed a stoppage on outdoor work during the hottest hours of the day as the temperatures reached a record 43°C. Many vendors closed shop, and normally bustling downtown streets in Belgrade appeared nearly deserted.
Temperatures reached 45°C early in the week in neighbouring Macedonia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where hospitals – many lacking air conditioning – struggled to cope with heatwave victims.
Firefighters encountered added difficulties in Bosnia and United Nations-administered Kosovo as the heat set off landmines left over from the 1990s wars.
But for northern parts of Europe, flood rather than fire has been the cause of chaos. The UK had its wettest early summer ever recorded as continuing rainfall this week exceeded the previous high set in 1789. More than 20m litres a day of bottled water is being distributed to householders in one of the worst hit areas of the UK in Gloucestershire, where water, sewage and electricity networks have been overwhelmed by the floodwaters.
Referring to the bottled water, Paul Bloodworth in Gloucester, whose house narrowly missed damage, told the FT: “I’m happy to get this. It’s a scarce commodity now.”
Extreme weather also hit Germany, causing flooding in Bavaria and severe storm damage near Hamburg. In Bavaria, an 82-year-old woman drowned in her basement apartment last weekend when flood waters 1.5m high hit the region.
A motorway was closed after cars partially disappeared under a metre of water, bridges were submerged and hundreds of houses severely damaged. At a music festival near Hamburg, 950 young people had to be evacuated by emergency services, and 14 people were injured.
Forecasters say that the bad weather could continue into next week, although some respite is expected in August.
Reporting by Fiona Harvey in London, Kerin Hope in Athens, Theodor Troev in Sofia, Neil MacDonald in Belgrade, Hugh Williamson in Berlin and Frances Williams in Geneva
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