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Italy swelters under deadly ‘Cerberus’ heat wave which could break European temperature records

<i>Emanuele Perrone/Getty Images</i><br/>A man refreshes his face in a public fountain on July 11
Emanuele Perrone/Getty Images
A man refreshes his face in a public fountain on July 11

By Barbie Latza Nadeau and Laura Paddison

(CNN) — A blistering and deadly heat wave in Italy this week could break records, with temperatures predicted to soar past 45 degrees Celsius (113 Fahrenheit) in some parts of the country.

The Italian Meteorological Society has named the heat wave Cerberus after the three-headed monster that features in Dante’s Inferno as a guard to the gates of hell. “The earth has a high fever and Italy is feeling it firsthand,” Luca Mercalli, head of the Italian Meteorological Society, told CNN.

The heat has already claimed at least one life. A 44-year-old road construction worker died in hospital on Tuesday after he collapsed by the side of the road in the northern Italian city of Lodi, according to politician Nicola Fratoianni, who has petitioned for regulations to protect workers during the ongoing heat wave.

“We are facing a wave of abnormal heat at unbearable levels. Perhaps it should be the case that during the hottest hours all useful precautions are taken to avoid tragedies like the one that happened today in Lodi,” Fratoianni wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.

In Rome, several tourists collapsed due to heat stroke on Tuesday and early Wednesday, including an unnamed British tourist who passed out in front of the ancient Roman Colosseum on Tuesday, according to Rome’s civil protection head Giuseppe Napolitano.

The high temperatures, which extend over swaths of Europe, are caused by a “heat dome” – created when an area of high pressure stays over the same place for an extended period of time, trapping hot air underneath.

Very high temperatures in central and southern Italy are predicted for Friday, when the capital could see record-breaking temperatures between 40 and 45 degrees Celsius (104 to 113 Fahrenheit). Italy’s Health ministry has issued a red alert (meaning “risk of death”) in 27 cities this week, including Rome, Florence and Bologna.

Heat waves are one of the deadliest natural hazards. The warning comes on the heels of a report published in Nature on Monday, which found that last year’s heat wave killed 61,672 people in Europe. Italy had the highest fatality rate with around 18,000 deaths attributed to heat last year, according to the report.

Mercalli warned that vulnerable people with no access to air conditioning were at the highest risk. Fewer than 10% of homes in Europe have air conditioning, compared to around 90% of homes in the United States.

Humidity is expected to climb as well, adding to the misery across Italy. The government has issued warnings to stay indoors, stay hydrated and avoid alcohol.

Businesses have been told to try to avoid sending people to work outside between noon and 5pm during the next two-week period and some summer camps for children have suspended activity.

Tourist-heavy cities like Rome are also providing cooling stations near major attractions including misting tents, free water and health-care officials on hand to deal with heat stroke.

Excessive heat in the country is also expected to increase starting on Friday when Cerberus is replaced by a new front called Charon, another Greek figure who ferried the dead from the gates of hell, which could see temperatures soar even higher next week.

They could even approach the 48.8 degrees Celsius (120 Fahrenheit) record for the highest temperature in European history, which was set on the island of Sicily, on August 11, 2021, according to the Italian government.

The heat wave is also affecting other European countries including France, Germany and Spain.

Spain is particularly hard hit. The national weather service AEMET warned on Wednesday that temperatures could reach 44 degrees Celsius (111.2 Fahrenheit) in parts of the country.

This heat wave follows another one in Spain in April, which saw temperatures soar to 38.8 degrees Celsius, smashing the previous national monthly record. Scientists found that this heat wave – which also affected Portugal, Morocco and Algeria – was made 100 times more likely by the human-caused climate crisis.

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Article Topic Follows: CNN - Europe/Mideast/Africa

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