Firefighters work to extinguish a wildfire burning near the Sicilian village of Curcuraci near Messina, Italy, July 25, 2023. Image Credit: Reuters

MILAN: Wildfires forced the closure of Palermo airport in Sicily on Tuesday as extreme weather continued to batter Italy, with severe storms causing damage and at least two deaths in the north of the country.

The airport in the Sicilian capital would remain shut until 0900 GMT, its operator said on Twitter, as firefighters were working to put out a major blaze in a nearby area that also disrupted local road and rail traffic.

The incident added to Sicily’s travel misery at the peak of the tourist season. The island’s main airport of Catania, Italy’s fifth-biggest, was closed last week due to a fire in a terminal building and has reopened only for a few flights.

A heat wave has hit southern Europe, with scorching temperatures bringing increased risk of fires and deaths.

In some parts of eastern Sicily, temperatures rose to 47.6°Celsius (117.7 Fahrenheit) on Monday, close to a record European high of 48.8°Celsius recorded on the island two years ago.

On Tuesday, Italy put 16 cities on red alert because of the high temperatures. These include Palermo and Catania, where power and water supply cuts that local officials blamed in part on the heat have been frequent in recent days.

Meanwhile, an overnight storm in Milan tore off roofs and uprooted trees, blocking roads and disrupting overground transportation in Italy’s financial capital.

Two women were killed on Monday and Tuesday in the northern Monza and Brescia provinces after being crushed by falling trees.

On Monday, a Delta flight headed to New York which had taken off from Milan’s Malpensa airport was seriously damaged by hailstorm and forced to land in Rome.

Italy is one of the European countries most affected by climate change, and suffered deadly floods in May.