Large parts of western and central Europe sweltered in scorching weather, with German authorities imposing motorway speed limits amid fears of buckling road surfaces and some French schools staying closed as a precaution.
Authorities have warned that temperatures could top 40C (104F) in parts of the continent over the coming days as a plume of dry, hot air moves north from Africa.
The transport ministry in Germany’s eastern Saxony-Anhalt state said it has imposed speed limits of 62 mph or 75 mph on several short stretches of road until further notice.
Those stretches usually have no speed limit, but officials fear they might crack in the heat and endanger drivers.
Professor Hannah Cloke, a natural hazards researcher at the University of Reading, said the heat along with a build-up of humidity is a “potentially lethal combination”.
“Children, the elderly and people with underlying health conditions are particularly at risk,” she said.
Around France, some schools have been closed because of the high temperatures, which are expected to go up to 39C (102F) in the Paris area later this week and bake much of the country, from the Pyrenees in the southwest to the German border in the northeast.
Such temperatures are rare in France, where most homes and many buildings do not have air conditioning.
In Paris, authorities banned older cars from the city for the day as the heat wave aggravates the city’s pollution.
Regional authorities estimate the measure put into place Wednesday affects nearly 60% of vehicles circulating in the Paris region, including many delivery lorries and older cars with higher emissions than newer models.
Violators face fines.
French charities and local officials are providing extra help for the elderly, the homeless and the sick this week, remembering that some 15,000 people, many of them elderly, died in France during a 2003 heat wave.
The country’s prime minister Edouard Philippe cited the heatwave as evidence of climate destabilisation and vowed to step up the government’s fight against climate change.
With temperatures in Milan forecast to hit 40C (104F), an aid group said it was preparing to distribute 10,000 bottles of free water to the homeless and other needy people.
About half of Spain’s provinces are on alert for high temperatures, which are expected to rise as the weekend approaches.
The northeastern city of Zaragoza was forecast to be the hottest on Wednesday at 39C (102F), building to 44C (111F) on Saturday, according to the government weather agency Aemet.
In southwestern Europe, however, some people had other reasons to complain during their summer vacation: the Portuguese capital Lisbon, on Europe’s Atlantic coast, awoke cloudy and wet on Wednesday.