Nine die as heatwave sweeps Southeast Europe

SOFIA, Jul 8, 2000 -- (Reuters) At least nine people were reported dead and hundreds hospitalized as a heat-wave continued to scorch southeastern Europe on Friday, setting off fires that ravaged crops and forests.

In Bulgaria, officials said five people had died as temperatures in some parts of the country reached 43 degrees Celsius (109 Fahrenheit), the highest recorded for over a century.

The country's fire prevention service said that some 1,000 hectares (2,500 acres) of crops, mainly wheat and barley, and 700 hectares (1.730 acres) of forest had been destroyed by fire in the past two days.

Radio stations were carrying warnings for people to stay at home if possible and giving advice on how to survive the heat.

Heavy trucks were banned from travelling in the hottest hours around mid-day as road surfaces melted in some places.

In Turkey, soaring temperatures killed at least four people from heart attacks or brain hemorrhages and sent more than 100 to hospital during the night.

Firefighters backed by helicopters battled dozens of small blazes that broke out in the dry Aegean and Mediterranean regions, destroying hundreds of hectares of forest and forcing the evacuation of 200 homes, the daily Milliyet reported.

The heat wave that has pushed temperatures as high as 50 degrees Celsius (122 Fahrenheit) in Italy and the Balkans is expected to hold till the beginning of next week, officials said.

In the volatile southern Serbian province of Kosovo, officials said the heat-wave had contributed to a collapse of the power-generation system and triggered brush fires and a chemical explosion.

Much of Kosovo has had little electricity for the past few days because of a string of technical problems compounded by a shortage of water, said a spokesman for the European Union, which is responsible for utilities in the territory.

The spokesman said engineers had to shut down one of only two main generating units in Kosovo on Thursday, partly because a river providing water to the plant had dried up.

Temperatures in Kosovo, which has been under international rule since June 1999, have soared above 40 Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) in the last few days. Several brush fires broke out in the north of the province, the NATO-led KFOR peacekeeping force said.

Elsewhere in the territory, a 50-litre tank containing chemicals burst due to high temperatures on Thursday and released chlorine fumes, forcing the evacuation of the area.

In Bosnia, local authorities in some towns including Konjic in the south and Bihac in the west declared a state of emergency because of forest fires.

Bosnian radio said fires were raging throughout the country, particularly in the west and south, and firefighters were unable to tackle some of them because of mine-fields left over from the 1992-5 war.

The authorities in Mostar in the south reduced working hours out of concern for employees health, since most work-places lacked air-conditioning.

In Cyprus, the commercial center of the capital Nicosia was hit by power cuts due to a surge in usage of air-conditioning units.

"It is 99 percent due to air-conditioners," a spokesman for the electricity authority said.

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