MOSCOW — It's so hot that women in bikinis are sunbathing in Moscow.
A heat wave across much of Europe is also causing crops to wither, forest fires to ignite and roads to melt, while refrigerators and fans are buckling in the searing sun.
From Russia's Urals mountains to western Germany, a week of temperatures hovering stubbornly in the mid-90 degrees has baked northern parts of Europe, which are usually spared the heat of the Mediterranean — and forecasters are warning of more to come over the next week.
People were finding ways to beat the heat. There was the rare sight of women in bikinis sunbathing Thursday in Kolomenskoye park in Moscow, while other people tried to cool off by soaking themselves in fountains and playing in water jets in the Russian capital, Belarus and other parts of Europe.
But it hasn't been all fun and games. The air conditioning systems on board the high-speed trains of Germany's national rail operator Deutsche Bahn broke down several times. With locked windows, dozens of passengers were afflicted with heat exhaustion after spending hours trapped in temperatures of up to 122 degrees.
The higher temperatures are being caused by an interaction between a zone of low pressure to the northwest of the United Kingdom and high pressure around the Mediterranean, British weather service spokesman Barry Gromett said.
"What that does is to bring hot African air up over Europe," he said. "Temperatures are, in many places across Central and Eastern European, about 5 to 10 degrees (Celsius) warmer than you might expect."
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A batch of cooler air is scheduled to work its way slowly across France and into central Germany, Gromett said.
Loss of life
Russia's worst droughts in a century have destroyed almost 25 million acres of crops in central and European areas, authorities said. A state of emergency has been declared in 18 Russian provinces, where fire has engulfed more than 64,000 acres of forest.
The situation has been described as serious by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov, who oversees the agriculture sector. But he said authorities have the resources to cope. Various officials have tried to reassure the public that the country has enough grain stockpiled to rule out imports.
Germany's Potato Industry Union, meanwhile, says it expects losses of 30 percent in this year's harvest.
"The situation is worse in many places this year than in the drought years of 2003 and 2006," said Martin Umhau, the head of Germany's Union of Potato Industry.
The Chamber of Agriculture of the Czech Republic estimates the grain harvest could by down by 10 percent compared with 2009.
Meanwhile, drowning deaths were up in Eastern Europe as people flocked to seas, lakes and rivers in search of a break from the blistering heat. More than 230 people died in the last week alone across Russia, with 21 perishing over two weeks in Latvia, according to officials, who lamented the tendency of heavy drinking while sunbathing. Last year, about 3,000 people drowned in Russia.
Blood reserves were dropping in Germany, with fewer donors able to travel to blood banks.
"We now only have reserves for one to three days," German Red Cross spokesman Friedrich-Ernst Dueppe told the news agency DAPD.
Heat hits transportation
The heat also took its toll on transport, with roads damaged and railway operators suffering.
A major highway from Prague to Germany had to be closed for several days of repairs, and the Vodochody international airport north of Prague stopped accepting passenger flights after heat damage to the runway.
In the Baltic state of Estonia, several churches were being used as heat shelters, particularly for the elderly. A major grocery store in the capital, Tallinn, reported that all of its refrigerators containing dairy and meat products had succumbed to the heat. Local municipalities have closed public woodland areas in order to lower the risk of fire.
Stores in Finland, which reported a 75-year record of 93.5 degrees, were quickly running out of fans and air conditioners. The same happened in Germany and Hungary, where the mercury hit 99 degrees.
Europe's scorching weather comes on the heels of a record heat wave stifling much of the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.
Philadelphia, Newark and Trenton, New Jersey hit 100 degrees last week in weather that caused scattered power outages throughout the region. The heat hampered train travel, forcing nursing homes with power problems to evacuate and buckled highways.
The heat caused a handful of deaths but overall constituted a nuisance. Since the heat wave broke, rainstorms have hit many of the same areas, causing flash flooding in spots.
Associated Press writers Melissa Eddy in Berlin, Raphael G. Satter in London, Gary Peach in Riga, Latvia, Matti Huuhtanen in Helsinki, Finland, Jari Tanner in Tallinn, Estonia, Pablo Gorondi in Budapest, Hungary, and Jan Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.
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