Europe: Too Hot For Comfort

elderly - this couple enjoys the evening sunshine, one of many over the course of 55+ years of marriage.
Rome is considering water rations. London will reward anyone who can invent an air conditioning system for the sweltering Tube. In Paris, the city's fountains have become wading pools.

Summertime has arrived with a vengeance in parts of Europe, forcing dehydrated tourists to run for cover as officials from England to Romania scramble to limit the damage from drought and high heat.

In Paris, where the mercury rose to 93 degrees Fahrenheit on Tuesday, water vendors were out in force, ice cream parlors did brisk business and weary tourists took refuge just about every place the could.

Many people, like American visitor Amanda Movahhed, sought to beat the heat by dipping their feet into a fountain outside the Louvre Museum.

"L.A.'s hot — but never uncomfortable like this," said Movahhed, a recent graduate from the University of California at Los Angeles. "It's kinda tough on us tourists."

The higher temperatures had a silver lining for some parts of Europe. Places like England, Berlin and some Baltic countries were basking in uncommonly balmy climes more reminiscent of summer in the Mediterranean.

Belgian daily De Morgen ran a front-page photo Tuesday of a man in a bathing suit sunning himself in the town of Oostende under the headline: "Belgium is becoming a tropical paradise."

A cooling off period was forecast for some places.

Thunderstorms swept across western France late Tuesday, causing at least one death and an unknown number of injuries, fire officials said. Southwest England was to face heavy rains on Wednesday.

Scorching temperatures in Italy prompted authorities Tuesday to discuss whether to declare a state of emergency in the country's north due to a weeks-long drought.

Rome officials spoke about rationing water in dozens of the capital's districts, and Italian newspapers warned that fruit and vegetable prices could rise by 30 percent because output from parched fields was shrinking.

Italy suffered power blackouts late last month when citizens overloaded the system during a heat wave. Big power plants on the River Po — at its lowest level in decades — lack the water needed to cool their turbines.

Meteorologists in Italy predicted the searing temperatures and lack of rain in the country's battered north would continue into August. Some experts blamed global warming.

"Temperatures are increasing all over the world and in Italy specifically, 0.5 degrees (Celsius) in the last 30 years," geologist Mario Tozzi said. The result is a 30 percent drop in rainfall over the last 30 years, he said.

Levels in some of Europe's leading rivers were dropping. German officials said the Rhine was at five-year lows, and ships along the Danube faced the risk of running aground in Romania.

Authorities in Romania were digging deeper channels in the Danube to prevent ships from getting stuck, and ordered shipping companies to reduce their loads on one of eastern Europe's top commercial arteries.

The economic fallout was poised to hit agriculture too.

In Austria, farming groups warned that drought is likely to cut this summer's harvest of various crops — such as grains, peas and corn — in many places down to about 60 percent of normal levels.

At least four brush fires broke out on Corsica on Tuesday, prompting firefighters to fan out across the French Mediterranean island to battle the blazes.

Authorities were also on guard about possible forest fires in Finland, a big timber producer, where temperatures topped 88 degrees Fahrenheit under glaring sunshine in recent days.

On one of the city's hottest days of the year, London Mayor Ken Livingstone on Tuesday offered a $161,000 reward to anyone who can invent an air-conditioning system for the London Underground's deepest lines.

In the French capital, some commuters said Paris officials could take a lesson from their neighbor across the Channel.

"It's high time they put air conditioning in the Paris Metro," said Parisian Joelle Abalea, 33, as she entered the subway station at Place de la Concorde. "It's so hot in here that for short trips, I'd rather walk in the sun than take the subway."