Ill-Equipped Britain Hit by Heat Wave

Lions licked blood-flavored ice blocks in the zoo, judges went wigless in court and guards at Buckingham Palace ducked into the shade.

Britain faced the hottest day ever recorded in July on Wednesday as a heat wave swept much of Europe. Temperatures hit 96.6 degrees south of London — so hot some road surfaces melted.

Two people died in Spain as temperatures climbed above 104 degrees, while officials in France said as many as nine people who died recently were believed to be victims of the heat.

CountryWatch: United Kingdom

But with its aging buildings and infrequent brushes with sweltering temperatures, Britain was particularly ill-equipped for the heat wave.

London's Underground has no air conditioning and the Evening Standard newspaper measured temperatures in the train system at 117 degrees. Operator Transport for London takes no measurements but did not dispute the figure.

"I don't even want to talk about it," said Jean Thurgood of east London, fanning herself frantically on a stuffy bus. "It feels like the hottest day of the century."

Construction workers in northwest England, meanwhile, dumped crushed rocks on highways because the liquefying pavement was sticking to vehicles, Cumbria's county council said.

Across Europe, health officials warned people to stay out of the sun and to drink plenty of water.

In France, several days of dry heat and high temperatures — which reached 97 degrees in Paris on Wednesday and 102 degrees in Bordeaux a day earlier — recalled a heat wave in 2003, when 15,000 people died from dehydration and heat-related disorders. Many were elderly and were in some cases left alone while families vacationed.

Since then, France's government has adopted measures to avoid a repeat of the disaster. On Wednesday, French Health Minister Xavier Bertrand and Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin visited a retirement home to check on the prevention plan.

In Paris, heat-busters included four giant humidifiers placed around the Eiffel Tower, one at each foot, that sprayed passers-by with water vapor as they tried to escape the sun's punishing rays.

This week's victims of the heat in France likely included two people in their 80s who died Tuesday in the Bordeaux region, and a 53-year-old construction worker who collapsed in the central city of Macon.

Elsewhere in Europe, temperatures at 4 p.m., when daytime measurements generally peak, registered 95 degrees in Berlin, 93.9 in Brussels, Belgium, and 95.5 in the Dutch city of Utrecht.

In the Netherlands, the Nijmegen 4-Day March was canceled after two participants died in the heat. Some 300 people taking part in the popular walk became ill Tuesday in temperatures that reached 95 degrees and 30 were hospitalized.

In Britain, many people simply sought shelter indoors as the mercury rose. By mid-afternoon Wednesday, the temperature at Charlwood, near London's Gatwick Airport, hit 97.3 degrees — the hottest temperature ever recorded in Britain in July.

The average temperature in southeastern England in July is 70 degrees — and that figure has been the nighttime temperature the past few days.

Sancha Lancaster, spokeswoman for Britain's primary weather forecaster the Meteorological Office, said as the heat hangs on, temperatures could eclipse the record of 101 degrees in Faversham, Kent, on Aug. 10, 2003.

"There's no air conditioning anywhere, it seems," said 24-year-old Australian Mark Jones, who is living in London this summer. "In Australia, we're used to this, but here, a lot of people don't even have fans."

London officials advised people to carry a bottle of water.

Andrei Danilov, 32, dutifully cradled mineral water on a London bus.

"It gets worse and worse every year," he said. "I can't stand it."

At the historic Royal Courts of Justice, judges were allowed to remove their traditional wigs for court proceedings. One of Britain's largest trade union federations, the Trades Union Congress, issued a statement urging people to wear shorts to work.

And in a rare move, the two-hour shifts of the royal guards who stand outside Buckingham Palace were reduced to one hour at the beginning of the week in preparation for the heat, said the London headquarters spokesman, Col. David Sievwright.

At the Colchester Zoo, zookeepers gave lions ice blocks flavored with blood, and monkeys got blocks containing fruit.

But the heat failed to dash one of Queen Elizabeth II's annual garden parties. Nearly 8,000 people lined up to enter Buckingham Palace.