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Europe could hit record-breaking temperatures this week

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Europe is reeling from a record-breaking heat wave this week, with forest fires raging in France, Spain and Portugal. And the U.K. has declared a national emergency. The country's weather forecasters have issued a high-level heat alert for this first time. Scientists say these kind of extreme temperatures, once rare, will become increasingly frequent in Europe and in Britain thanks to global climate change. Willem Marx reports from London.

WILLEM MARX, BYLINE: The mercury rose Monday right across Wales and southern England, with London among the hottest of hot spots. Many residents of the capital sought relief in the city's open spaces, including midwife Karlie Shelley, sunning herself in Haggerston Park.

KARLIE SHELLEY: Because we live in the city, like, we all live in these little concrete boxes, right? We're quite high up. We're on the fifth floor. So, you know, the heat rises. Like, not many people have gardens in London, you know? You're really blessed if you had a garden. So, I mean, we're lucky we're in the park. City life is harsh in the heat.

MARX: Her young daughter, Beulah, seems a lot less bothered, perhaps since school was canceled for the day.

BEULAH SHELLEY: I love it because I can do water fights and stuff like that, and I can have fun with my friends.

MARX: Prime Minister Boris Johnson may be on his way out, but the U.K. government itself was still responding to the soaring temperatures, Cabinet Office Minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News.

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KIT MALTHOUSE: As it became clear that the weather was going to produce this record heat - and there's a strong possibility that we'll hit the all-time record in the next 48 hours - we have been in close contact with all the public services to make sure that they are as ready as they can be.

MARX: Many schools have closed earlier. Some shut entirely, with kids that did attend allowed to ditch their usual uniforms. Hospitals cancelled surgeries as operating theaters overheated, and train schedules slowed or were slashed entirely. Emergency services, particularly ambulances, have been on high alert, with thousands of extra staff on call. Care workers, meanwhile, were required to check in more frequently on older and more vulnerable patients. Here at one London airport, Luton, the excess heat even melted a runway, diverting incoming flights and delaying some departures for hours. Government Minister Malthouse said authorities should see this situation as an educational experience for longer-term climate changes.

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MALTHOUSE: We're sort of getting everybody stood up and ready for the next 48 hours. And we just need to to get through that, learn from it and then wait for the cooler air to arrive on Wednesday.

MARX: Outgoing Prime Minister Johnson has faced severe criticism Monday for skipping a national security meeting that was focused on the response. The country's only Green Party legislator, Caroline Lucas, said his government is using a, quote, "watering can" to combat what she called a climate emergency. What's needed instead, she said, was a giant fire hose. For NPR News, I'm Willem Marx at London Luton Airport. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Willem Marx