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Heat Wave Kills Dozens in Central, Southeastern Europe

A heat wave has killed dozens of people in Central and Southeastern Europe, most in Romania, where authorities have issued a code orange alert in the capital Bucharest and in eight counties. There are also concerns about energy supplies, because of the increased use of air conditioners. Stefan Bos reports for VOA from Budapest on how the heat wave is having an impact on people in the region.

Patients in Budapest's Szent Ferenc (Saint Franciscus) Hospital may be forgiven for demanding cool air these days.

Yet, despite a heat wave that has claimed dozens of lives in Central and Southeastern Europe, the hospital's air conditioner is off.

The chief nurse in the cardiology department, Agnes Rajz, says the hospital does not have enough money for electricity because of government austerity measures aimed at cutting a ballooning budget deficit.

"Yes we have air-conditioning in the hospital, but we have to save on electricity bills. Therefore, we are not using it, or only sometimes," she said.

Ironically, that is good news for energy companies, which have warned of a major electricity crisis as an increasing number of Hungarians use air conditioners.

The country's prime minister, Ferenc Gyurcsany, has weighed in on the debate, suggesting alternative measures to keep cool.

In a controversial move, he urged female Cabinet members and other government workers to dispense with stockings, while men were asked to leave their ties at home.

But in Budapest's 'Szent Ferenc' hospital, Chief Nurse Rajz tells VOA News the government's energy cuts come at the wrong moment as her department prepares for an influx of patients suffering from heat stroke.

"Yes we are preparing and we are expecting that there will be more ill people arriving because of the heat wave, especially between those who are older," she added. "They don't drink enough, their blood pressure is very high, and they have all kind of heart problems. And for them this weather is very difficult."

The hospital is relatively lucky because it is located in the cooler, hilly side of town. Last week, Budapest's highest temperatures in nearly 100 years were measured.

Edit Bleir, 65, lives near the hospital and is not looking forward to a downhill trip in an old, diesel-run, passenger bus to Budapest's lower lying center. She works in the city teaching filmmaking.

She says she is pleased that volunteers have begun distributing mineral water, especially to impoverished retired people.

"Yes, I think this is a good action they are making. Especially for people who are not able to buy it and for those who feel bad. They are now able to use that water," she said.

But there are doubts that these measures will be enough for Hungary to prevent heat-related deaths. Dozens of deaths have been reported in neighboring Romania where meteorologists say temperatures could hit 40 degrees Celsius, the highest level in 90 years.

Romanian meteorologists have issued a code orange alert in the capital Bucharest and in eight counties in southern Romania because of the extreme heat.

Officials also reported deaths in other Balkan countries including Serbia, Albania and Bulgaria, where several people seeking relief drowned while swimming in unsupervised dams and beaches.

Turkey and Cyprus have also suffered deaths blamed on the intense heat