THOUSANDS of schools have been closed across Europe as a deadly heatwave cooks the continent.
Temperatures soared to their highest ever in France on Friday, reaching a record breaking 45.9C in the southern village of Gallargues-le-Montueux.
Previously, the hottest temperature ever recorded in France was 44.1C, set 16 years ago during a devastating heatwave in 2003 that killed an estimated 70,000 people died across Europe, including 15,000 in France.
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The country’s national weather agency Meteo-France said the new high was comparable to August temperatures in California’s Death Valley.
The extreme heat has prompted the activation of France’s highest-level heat danger alert for the first time, with unprecedented red alerts issued for four regions in the south, signalling temperatures that are more typical of Saudi Arabia.
The cities of Marseille, Nimes, Montpellier and Avignon and the lower Rhone Valley are among the areas covered by the red alert.
Much of the rest of the country remains on orange alert, the second-highest level.
France just recorded its highest temperature — ever.
Temperatures reached 111.8°F in southern France, beating the previous record 111.4°F.
It placed 4 regions on red alert over "dangerous" heat it says is more typical of the Arabian Peninsula. pic.twitter.com/luhwZA0QwI
— AJ+ (@ajplus) June 28, 2019
About 4000 French schools were closed on Friday because they couldn’t ensure safe conditions, while authorities cancelled many end-of-school-year carnivals.
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said the heatwave was “exceptional by its intensity and earliness”.
“Measures have been taken for the most vulnerable people,” he told reporters.
“But given the intensity of the heat wave, it’s the entire population who must be careful today … both for oneself and for loved ones and neighbours.”
The extreme heat is being felt far and wide, with Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic also recording their highest-ever June temperatures.
— CNN Breaking News (@cnnbrk) June 28, 2019
Heat-related deaths have also been reported in Spain, Italy, France and Germany, mainly among the elderly.
A 93-year-old man collapsed from heatstroke and died on the street in the northern city of Valladolid, while a 17-year-old boy collapsed after helping harvest wheat in the southern Andalusia region.
In the Italian city of Milan, a 72-year-old homeless man was found dead at the main train station after falling ill due to the heatwave, while at least four people have died in Germany.
In Spain, more than 600 firefighters and half-a-dozen water-bombing aircraft were on Friday battling Catalonia’s worst wildfires in 20 years.
Eight provinces there were on red alert as temperatures soared into the mid-40s in many areas.
The unusually high temperatures are forecast to last until early next week, with temperatures of between 37C and 41C expected across most of France on Saturday.
The World Meteorological Organisation said 2019 is on track to be among the world’s hottest years, and that 2015 to 2019 would be the hottest five-year period on record.
It said the European heatwave was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.