NICOSIA, Cyprus: Disgruntled tourists bemoaned the temporary closing of the Acropolis in Athens on Friday as Greek authorities proactively shut the world monument’s gates between midday and early evening amid a heat wave that continues to grip southern Europe.
In Italy, there were fears about the coming days, with the heat expected to intensify and temperatures forecast to climb to above 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) next week in the centre and south of the country.
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Italian meteorologists are calling the next phase of the heatwave “Charon” - a reference to the ferryman of the souls of the dead in Greek mythology. That succeeds this week’s “Cerberus” named after the three-headed dog of the underworld.
The European Space Agency (ESA), whose satellites monitor land and sea temperatures, has warned that Italy, Spain, France, Germany and Poland are all facing extreme conditions.
Temperatures could break Europe’s current record - 48.8 Celsius recorded in Sicily in August 2021.
The impact of extreme summer heat has been brought into focus by a study this week that said as many as 61,000 people may have died in the sweltering heat across Europe last summer.
Joan Ballester, a professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, said France had learned lessons from a deadly 2003 heatwave that countries such as Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal could follow.
In Croatia, 56 firefighters with 20 vehicles and three aircraft had struggled to contain a bushfire that spread rapidly on Thursday due to strong southerly winds near the Adriatic town of Sibenik.
Red Cross staff handed out bottled water to tourists wilting in long lines hoping to beat the closure and scale the steps up to the gleaming Parthenon temple as temperatures were expected to peak above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the Greek capital.
Some visitors were frustrated at being left in the lurch because they were unaware of Greek authorities’ last-minute announcement of the Acropolis’ closure at noon. One visitor said he was disappointed at losing the chance and that it would be unlikely he would come back any time soon.
“I even bought a €50 ticket to skip the line to enter and I couldn’t enter the place,” the man, who didn’t give his name, told The Associated Press.
Others who beat the closing time like Sylvia from Colombia were elated despite the heat, saying she came prepared.
“We have water, we have some ventilators,” she told the AP. “And I think it’s always an amazing experience to be here.”
Red Cross coordinator Ioanna Fotopoulou said paramedics on hand administered first aid to a number of tourists exhibiting symptoms of dehydration and experiencing fainting spells.
In Spain, people packed the beaches as the country enjoyed a short-lived respite from it’s second heatwave of the summer.
Temperatures were still expected to reach 40 degrees Celsius in at least 12 of Spain’s 17 regions Friday, although lower from a high of 45 degrees (113 Fahrenheit) that scorched the southeastern town of Albox on Wednesday.
The Aemet state weather agency says another heatwave is expected to start Sunday with highest temperatures yet to come.
In Italy, the country’s health ministry on Friday warned residents of 10 cities from Bologna to Rome and of another five cities in Sicily, Sardinia and Puglia to avoid being out in the midday heat due to extreme temperatures.
Temperatures in the country are expected to reach 12 degrees above average in some areas this weekend.
On the southeastern island nation of Cyprus, people clustered under air conditioning units and cooling fans set to full blast, as midday temperatures inland were forecast to hit a high of 43 C (110 Fahrenheit).
Temperatures weren’t expected to go below 25 C (77 Fahrenheit) through the night, while humidity levels especially along the southern coastline were expected to reach an uncomfortable 65%.
The temperatures were forecast to hover at the same levels Saturday, with a small dip expected the following day.
The Forestry Service issued a “red alert” regarding the fire hazard, appealing to the public to take extra care and avoid using any machinery outdoors that could spark a fire.
In the capital of Nicosia, more than two dozen elderly people sought refuge at a dedicated heat shelter the municipality reserves for summer heatwaves.
Councillor Elena Loucaidou told The Associated Press that many of the elderly who are on low incomes appreciate the opportunity to save on their electricity bill and enjoy the shelter’s air conditioned environs.
Yiannoula Phinikaridou, 78, was one of those people who took advantage of the shelter’s conveniences.
“In this heat wave, it’s very helpful for us to come here, get refreshed with cold drinks that they offer us,” she told Cypriot media. “It’s every important for us low-income retirees to save on electricity.”
The heat is taking a toll on the country’s economic activity, particularly in the construction sector where laws obligate employers to offer workers frequent water breaks, shaded rest areas and even suspend work if temperatures hit specified high levels.
Cyprus Building Contractors Federation Director Yiannos Poumbouris said most contractors adhere to the law, but that often translates to diminished productivity because of delays and additional pay to employees if they are required to work either very early or later in the day to avoid peak temperature hours.
For instance, cement pouring must be done either very early in the day or much later, meaning a higher cost for a contractor. Poumbouris said there are no figures on lost productivity as it is difficult to gauge, but that the contractors expect this during summer time.