Record Heat Hits France

PARIS (AP) -- Schools are spraying kids with water and nursing homes are equipping the elderly with hydration sensors as France and other nations battle a record-setting heat wave baking much of Europe.

Several people have died around the continent in incidents that authorities are linking to the heat.

The French national weather service activated its highest-level heat danger alert for the first time, putting four regions around Marseille and Montpellier in the south of the country under special watch Friday. Temperatures in the area are forecast to reach up to 44 degrees Celsius (111 F).

Such high temperatures are rare in France — as is centralized air conditioning.

About 4,000 schools closed because they couldn't ensure safe conditions, and local authorities canceled many end-of-school-year carnivals.

Some criticized the government for going overboard, but the prime minister defended the efforts after 15,000 people died in a heat wave in 2003 that woke France up to the risks.

Those schools that stayed open worked to keep kids cool. Teachers at the Victor Hugo Primary School in Colombes near Paris abandoned suffocating classrooms and are keeping children outside all day, sprinkling them with water and organizing quiet activities in the shade.

"I make them go in the playground with books, in the shade, they must stay seated, they keep hydrated on a regular basis," said teacher Valerie Prevost. "We tell them to dampen their caps, to drink regularly. We've been given reusable cups so we make them drink very regularly."

Italy put 16 cities under alerts for high temperatures, and civil security services distributed water to tourists visiting famed sites around Rome under a scorching sun.

Heat was blamed for the deaths of two people in Spain, private news agency Europa Press reported Friday.

An 80-year-old man collapsed and died in the street in Valladolid, in northwest Spain, the agency said, and a 17-year-old boy died in the southern city of Cordoba after diving into a swimming pool and losing consciousness.

Four people have drowned so far in France this week, and a 12-year-old girl drowned in a river near Manchester, England. France's health minister and British police warned people to swim only in authorized areas.

France has also seen an uptick in so-called street-pooling, or illegally opening fire hydrants. A 6-year-old child is in life-threatening condition after being hit by water shooting from a cracked-open fire hydrant in the Paris suburb of Saint-Denis, broadcaster France-Info reported.

In Berlin, a police unit turned water cannons — usually used against rioters — on city trees, to cool them down.

(KA)