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Europe Coping With Extreme Weather

July 12, 2005

VIENNA, Austria (AP) _ With floods in Austria, soaring temperatures in France, gales in Croatia, and Portugal’s worst drought in more than a century, this summer’s weather is taking its toll on Europe.

As of Tuesday, dozens of deaths had been attributed to weather that over the past few weeks has ranged from scorchingly hot and dry to chilly with days of prolonged rain.

As emergency crews evacuated a flooded hospital in western Austria, the association of private hospitals in France announced they had opened 8,000 beds for potential heat and drought victims.

Forest fires sparked by record high temperatures and lack of moisture raged in Sweden, while Italians who just days ago suffered through dog-day heat dug out their sweaters and umbrellas.

Italy appeared to be the battlefield of the two clashing weather fronts.

Lightning killed an 18-year-old shepherd in the northwestern Valle d’Aosta region as thunderstorms swept the region after a prolonged hot spell that claimed at least 21 lives, most of them elderly. Hail pummeled crops in northern Italy, damaging fruit trees and vineyards across the region.

While southern Germany reported rivers and floods receding after days of heavy rains Tuesday, parts of Austria continued battling the threat of inundation.

``There is no sign of relief,″ said regional government spokesman Franz Michel as emergency crews brought supplies to higher ground from the hospital in Mittersil, Austria, about 50 miles south of Salzburg. Local fire chief Georg Scharler told the Austria Press Agency that ``you could open a diving school″ in the hospital basement.

Near Melk, about 50 miles west of Vienna, firefighters pumped out basements and answered fire calls after lightning struck several homes, Elsewhere, flooding and resulting mud slides forced the closing of some highway and railway sections.

In Croatia, gale force winds and heavy rains flooded Dubrovnik’s old town, forcing tourists and residents to roll up their trousers as they waded through historic squares. Guests of the five-star Excelsior hotel were regaled with an impromptu waterfall in the lobby after pounding rain punctured the roof.

To the east, authorities declared ``critical″ situations for 11 Bulgarian communities hit by more than a week or heavy rain that left at least five people dead, large parts of the north and east flooded and forced the evacuations of hundreds of people. Meteorologists forecast at least another week of flash storms.

In Romania, a 10-year-old girl died after she was struck by lightning. Flooding hit 11 counties in western, central and eastern Romania, a government statement said.

Much of the hot and dry spell was confined to the southwest of the continent, while rains and cool temperatures were generally restricted to the east. But there were exceptions.

Large areas of southern Sweden appeared gripped by the same arid heat wave plaguing residents of Spain, Portugal and France. Military helicopters dumped water on flames consuming tens of thousands of acres of woodland.

Weather experts in Portugal called the arid spell gripping 97 percent of the country the worst in more than a century. In southern Portugal, some 22,000 people were being supplied daily by water trucks.

Francisco Palma, president of the farmers association of the southern provinces of Alentejo complained: ``Things have never been as bad.″

Farmers also were groaning in neighboring Spain, where the driest winter and spring in more than 60 years had already left reservoirs in some regions 80 percent empty.

A four-tiered weather warning system was introduced last year following a heat weave in 2003 that killed nearly 15,000 people.

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Associated Press writers Ariel David in Rome, Tomi Grandell in Stockholm, Alison Mutler in Bucharest and Eugene Brcic in Zagreb contributed to this story.

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