A day after Britain recorded its highest ever temperature, train travel there remained blocked as wildfires raged through drought-stricken Europe.
Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute estimates that 678 people died in the country from July 10-17 due to high temperatures. That figure includes José Antonio González, 60, a street sweeper in Madrid who died of heat stroke while working after temperatures hit 104 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday.
Three days later, another street sweeper in Madrid was hospitalized with heatstroke, underscoring the burden that climate change is already placing on the most vulnerable sections of society.
“It is obvious that social inequalities play a role” in people’s suffering during heat waves, Júlio Díaz of Spain’s Carlos III Health Institute told Spanish public broadcaster RTVE, in comments translated by the Associated Press.
“Enduring a heat wave in an air-conditioned house with a pool is not the same as five people in the same room with a window as the only source of cool air,” he said.
In Portugal, the heat wave is responsible for at least 1,063 deaths, the country’s health official, Graça Freitas, told Reuters. Temperatures there also recorded 104 degrees Fahrenheit last week.
It is a hair’s breadth from the British record of 104.5 degrees Fahrenheit, reached on Tuesday, which broke the previous record of 101.7, set in 2019.
The UK Met Office has warned Britons that extreme heat will arrive with more frequency in the future. While extreme heat is possible with natural variations in climate, the bureau said the increase in frequency, duration and intensity of extreme heat over the past few decades “is clearly linked to observed warming. of the planet and can be attributed to human activity”.
This heat forced London Luton Airport to temporarily close a runway on Monday after high surface temperatures”caused the uprising of a small section.” Military flights from the country’s largest airbase, Brize Norton, were also halted on Monday as the “runway melted”, a military source told Sky News.
Even though cooler air entered the country on Wednesday, train travel remained disrupted due to heat and fires. London firefighters received more than 2,600 calls on Tuesday alone, its busiest day since World War II, London Mayor Sadiq Khan said. The service typically handles around 350 calls per day.
Wildfires continue to rage across the European continent, with blazes forcing evacuations in England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy and Greece.
In Athens, nearly 500 firefighters worked Wednesday to contain a large wildfire that threatened a hilly suburb northeast of the city, fueled by 50mph winds and hot, dry conditions that have persisted for weeks.
As conditions improve in western Europe, others in the east have yet to escape: Temperatures in Belgrade, Serbia, are expected to reach 108 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday.