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Heatwave deepens, threatens lives in U.S., Europe, Asia

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Heatwaves intensified across southern and Eastern Europe, Asia, and much of the United States yesterday as the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) warned of an increased risk of deaths due to the extreme weather.

Across the U.S., Americans grappled with a medley of extreme weather, from blazing heat to wildfire smoke-choked air and flood warnings, with a tropical storm headed for the Pacific island state of Hawaii yesterday afternoon.

The southwestern city of Phoenix, Arizona, exceeded 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) for the 19th day in a row, breaking its all-time record of 18 straight days over 110.

In the northeastern state of Vermont, thunderstorms were expected to drench areas already saturated from recent torrential rainfall, and potentially cause more floods like the ones that overwhelmed roadways and trapped people in their homes last week.

The Mediterranean island of Sardinia could see highs of more than 47 Celsius (116 Fahrenheit) and forecasters said, temperatures could hit 40 degrees (104 Fahrenheit) in several Italian cities, including 42-43 degrees Celsius in the Lazio region that includes Rome.

With baking temperatures hitting Europe during the peak summer tourist season, the WMO said the heatwave in the northern hemisphere was set to intensify. An estimated 61,000 people may have died in heatwaves last year in Europe alone.

The World Health Organisation’s regional director for Europe, Hans Henri P. Kluge, said the world must look ahead while adapting to the “new reality” of killer heatwaves and other extreme weather.

“There is a desperate and urgent need for regional and global action to effectively tackle the climate crisis, which poses an existential threat to the human race,” he said.

The EU’s emergency response coordination centre issued red alerts for high temperatures for most of Italy, northeastern Spain, Croatia, Serbia, southern Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Montenegro.

Heatwaves this summer, which saw temperatures climb to 127 degrees Fahrenheit (53 degrees Celsius) in California’s Death Valley and over 52 Celsius (126 degrees Fahrenheit) in China’s northwest, have coincided with wildfires from Greece to the Swiss Alps and deadly flooding in India and South Korea.

They have added fresh urgency to talks this week between the United States and China, the world’s top greenhouse gas polluters.

U.S. climate envoy John Kerry met Chinese officials in Beijing and expressed hope that climate cooperation could redefine troubled ties between the two powers.

Chinese President Xi Jinping stressed Beijing’s commitment to carbon neutrality and that a carbon peak was certain but that it would not be influenced by others.

“Temperatures in North America, Asia, and across North Africa and the Mediterranean will be above 40 degrees Celsius for a prolonged number of days this week as the heatwave intensifies,” the WMO said.

Overnight minimum temperatures were also expected to reach new highs, the WMO said, creating the risk of increased cases of heart attacks and deaths.

“Whilst most of the attention focuses on daytime maximum temperatures, it is the overnight temperatures which have the biggest health risks, especially for vulnerable populations,” it said.

Scientists have long warned that climate change, caused by greenhouse gas emissions mainly from burning fossil fuels, will make heatwaves more frequent, severe and deadly. They say governments need to take drastically reduce emissions to prevent climate catastrophe.

The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service says 2022 and 2021 were the continent’s hottest summers on record. Europe’s highest recorded temperature of 48.8 degrees Celsius (120 degrees Fahrenheit) was registered in Sicily two years ago.

In Italy, tourists have tried to keep cool by splashing in Rome’s fountains and standing under giant fans set up outside the Colosseum. Some were forced to queue for taxis for more than an hour in the heat outside the central railway station in Rome due to the capital’s chronic shortage of cabs.

The health ministry issued red weather alerts for 20 of the country’s 27 main cities yesterday, with the number expected to rise to 23 today.

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