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LONDON – Britain sweltered through the hottest day of the year Thursday, as an unusual heatwave wreaked havoc on transport and hospitals in a country more known for rain than sunshine.
The mercury peaked at 35 degrees Celcius (95 Fahrenheit) at London's Heathrow Airport, smashing this year's record of 34.5 Celsius (94.1 Fahrenheit) set June 21. Friday is likely to be hotter still, with predictions that the all-time record of 38.5 degrees Celsius (101.3 Fahrenheit) set in 2003 will be smashed as a weak jet stream traps heat inland.
Passengers on the Eurotunnel, which connects Britain and France, endured five-hour delays with no air conditioning. Hospitals, many of which have wards without air conditioning, heaved under the strain. The Royal College of Nursing said high temperatures were leaving nurses dizzy and exhausted.
"Nurses are now becoming patients themselves due to the heat," said Kim Sunley, a union representative, adding that one nurse ended up in the emergency room because of dehydration after working long hours.
Many parts of the country have seen no rainfall for weeks. The Met Office said rising temperatures will be driven by a tropical plume due to sweep into Britain from Africa and Europe on Friday.
London issued a high pollution alert, and fire officials called for a ban on barbeques in parks. Authorities warned drivers not to throw trash along the roadside amid a surge in grassfires.
The RAC, which offers roadside assistance, reported a 15 percent rise in the number of vehicle breakdowns compared to usual figures. Spokesman Simon Williams said the tarmac's black color allows it to absorb more heat.
"It is very hazardous from a driver's point of view. Our roads are in a pretty bad state anyway due to years of underinvestment and this is the last thing they need," he said. "The newly laid roads are especially at risk of melting."