The extreme heat in the Mediterranean region continued to trigger wildfires, with dozens of people killed in Algeria, Greece, Italy and Turkey in recent days. The weather system, nicknamed "Lucifer," has unleashed record temperatures, and on Thursday it was moving slowly west toward Spain and Portugal.
A weather station near the town of Syracuse in southeast Sicily registered what could be Europe’s highest recorded temperature Wednesday, at 48.8 degrees Celsius (119.8 F). The record had yet to be verified by the World Meteorological Organization.
Fire crews said forests and fields, baked to tinder by the intense heat, were easily ignited by such things as a discarded cigarette or concentration of the sun's rays by a shard of glass.
At night, the hills of southeast Sicily were lit up in flames. It was a frightening spectacle for the residents of the ancient mountain villages.
“Our small town was really invaded by fire. It is a catastrophe. The entire Calaforno Park and the surrounding area went up in flames,” said Giovanna Licitra, a resident of Giarratana. “We are living through some really sad moments because our land has suffered a very serious loss. And it will take a long time before it returns to its former glory.”
On the Greek island of Evia, the air was filled with acrid smoke, frequently punctured by the low-flying sorties of water-dropping aircraft. Fire crews have traveled from across Europe and as far away as Russia and Egypt to help. But for many residents, it was too late.
“Today, we have a lot of water-dropping aircraft, but they should have been here from day one. The damage now is too big, unfortunately,” said Dimitris, an island resident.
The heat has also triggered huge fires in Algeria, which reportedly have killed at least 69 people. Aid agencies said that more than 600 families had been made homeless. Algerian Prime Minister Aymen Benabderrahmane visited some of the affected regions Thursday and promised further government help.
Scientists said governments should make better preparations for further extreme weather.
“It really is horrific, and unfortunately, this is just the beginning of the heat and humidity deaths which we’re going to see, which we can attribute directly to human-caused climate change,” Ilan Kelman, a professor of disasters and health at University College London, said in an interview with VOA.
“When we’re up to this level of 45 degrees [Celsius] and over, when this continues for a while, and when we add humidity, really the only way to get through it unfortunately is indoor cooling," Kelman said. "And most people do not have that. Many people cannot afford it. And we also have the challenge that even if everyone was given access to it and could afford it or were helped, then that would overload the power system. We would see power outages.”
In addition to the immediate danger to life, the extreme weather disrupts livelihoods and entire economies, Kelman said.
“When it’s too hot to be outside, we are not going to have people tilling the fields," he added. "We are not going to have people harvesting the crops and sending it to be processed for our supermarket shelves. Construction cannot happen. What do we do about repairs for infrastructure which require people being outdoors" when it's simply too hot to be out there?
The weather system was slowly moving west toward Spain and Portugal. Social workers were checking in on the most vulnerable residents, including the elderly.
“Weather phenomena that are generated by climate change contribute to this vulnerability. This calls for more care and attention, and puts them at even more risk,” Madrid social worker Clara Garcia told Reuters.
Meanwhile in northern Turkey, heavy rains have caused catastrophic flooding in recent days, sweeping away cars and buildings and triggering mudslides — echoing scenes from Germany and Belgium last month.
Scientists said it showed the urgency of fighting climate change. But in the short term, they warned that extreme weather was increasingly common and said humanity must adapt as best it can.
Some information for this report came from Reuters.