Heatwave grips Balkans, kills five in Romania

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Five Romanians died this week as a heatwave gripped parts of the Balkans where temperatures have hit 42 degrees Celsius (108 Fahrenheit), causing wild fires, power shortages and traffic disruption.

A boy jumps into Dambovita river on a hot day in central Bucharest, Romania July 18, 2007. REUTERS/Bogdan Cristel

Off the coast of Croatia, even sea temperatures were expected to hit a record 30 degrees in the coming days.

“We have five people who died of heat. The heatwave could last until July 27,” Romanian Health Minister Eugen Nicolaescu told reporters.

A previous heatwave in June claimed the lives of 30 people in the Black Sea state over a two-week period and scorched thousands of hectares of farmland, badly hitting the country’s cereal crop.

In the Serbian capital Belgrade authorities wheeled out two dozen cistern trucks with water to hot spots such as bus and train stations, urging citizens to drink and wet their head to avoid heatstroke.

Officials banned the sale of eggs in outdoor markets and cautioned against swimming in the Ada Ciganlija lake, as the difference in temperature between the air and the water had caused several swimmers to suffer cardiac arrest and die.

In Bucharest television footage showed people with bottles of water sheltering under the trees in the city center. Authorities have also set up tents throughout the main cities to offer water and emergency medical assistance.

Trains arriving in Bucharest have reported delays due to speed restrictions imposed by the authorities worried the heat could buckle rails and cause derailments. The government has also banned trucks heavier than 7.5 metric tons from the main roads during the day to safeguard surfaces softened by the heat from deforming.

Falling water levels in Albania’s hydropower stations caused power cuts of up 14 hours a day and also affected the water supply, which depends on electricity to operate its pumps.

In the capital Tirana, people were stocking up on six-liter plastic containers and filling them up in public parks, some loading up many at a time on wheelbarrows to take home.

Wild fires were reported in Macedonia, Bulgaria and in parts of Serbia’s breakaway Kosovo province. Kosovo’s largest waterfall, in the town of Klina, dried up for the first time since 1965.

Additional reporting from Balkan bureau