Europeans wilt in 30C heatwave

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A heatwave across much of Europe is causing crops to wither, forest fires to ignite and roads to melt, while residents have been warned to be prepared for the hot conditions to continue for another week.

From Russia's Urals mountains to western Germany, a week of temperatures hovering stubbornly in the mid-30s C has baked northern parts of Europe which are usually spared the heat of the Mediterranean.

People have been finding ways to beat the heat - which led to the rare sight of women in bikinis sunbathing in Kolomenskoye park in Moscow, while other people tried to cool off by soaking themselves in fountains and playing in water jets in the Russian capital, Belarus and other parts of Europe.

But it hasn't all been fun. The air-conditioning systems on board the high-speed trains of Germany's national rail operator Deutsche Bahn have broken down several times, with passengers suffering heat exhaustion after spending hours trapped in temperatures of up to 50C.

Drowning deaths were up in Eastern Europe as people flocked to seas, lakes and rivers in search of a break from the blistering heat. More than 230 people died in the last week alone across Russia, with 21 perishing over two weeks in Latvia, according to officials, who lamented the tendency of heavy drinking while sunbathing.

The higher temperatures are being caused by an interaction between a zone of low pressure to the north west of the United Kingdom and high pressure around the Mediterranean, British weather service spokesman Barry Gromett said.

And heatwaves may be here to stay, as US climate scientists said that June was a record-setting month in the temperature department, keeping the planet on a course for a hot year.

Worldwide, the average temperature in June was 16.2C - 0.68C warmer than average for the month of June, said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in Washington. This year has had the warmest average temperature for the January-June period on record - 12.2 C.

Russia's worst droughts in a century have destroyed almost 10 million hectares of crops in central and European areas, authorities said. A state of emergency has been declared in 18 Russian provinces, where fire has engulfed more than 26,000 hectares of forest.

Germany's Potato Industry Union, meanwhile, says it expects losses of 30% in this year's harvest, while the Chamber of Agriculture of the Czech Republic estimates the grain harvest could by down by 10% compared with 2009.

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