Giampiero Sposito  /  Reuters
Italy continued to bake Tuesday, sending people to cool off at beaches like this one in Civitavecchia, 45 miles north of Rome. news services
updated 6/28/2005 1:46:29 PM ET 2005-06-28T17:46:29

A heat wave in Italy has put the health of one million people at risk and the government has warned the situation could be even worse than the summer of 2003 when 20,000 people died due to soaring temperatures.

Authorities have asked local doctors to keep an eye on their patients above 75 years of age who are most vulnerable, hoping to avoid a repeat.

“We are faced with a heat wave that is equal if not worse than in 2003 (and) around one million people are at risk,” Health Minister Francesco Storace told a news conference.

Italy is bathed in hot Saharan air with temperatures forecast on Tuesday to reach 97 degrees Fahrenheit, with the hottest regions in the north. Cities can feel much hotter as asphalt roads and pavements pump the heat back up from below.

France, where 15,000 people died in 2003, is also on a state of alert because of the heat. Police are patrolling Paris on the look-out for homeless people whose lives could be at risk.

House calls planned
High temperatures put the vulnerable at risk of dehydration and cardio-vascular problems, which can kill.

Storace said preventive measures would include house calls on those at risk, TV and radio spots reminding people to drink lots of water and stay inside during the hottest hours, and a toll-free number offering advice on how to cope.

This early summer heat wave has been linked to at least seven fatalities in Italy, including an Austrian tourist who collapsed from a heart attack Sunday while strolling in the northern resort of Jesolo, La Repubblica newspaper reported.

Last year, the government put the death toll in Italy from the 2003 heat wave at under 8,000, but a report published Monday by the national statistics office showed there were almost 20,000 more deaths in the summer of 2003 compared with the same period in the previous year.

High energy use, low water levels
Air conditioners have only starting becoming popular in Italy in the past few years, and widespread use on Monday caused electricity consumption to hit near-record levels.

Grid operator GRTN said the country was not at danger of power shortages, despite low availability from hydro plants. In June 2003, Italy suffered widespread blackouts as electricity demand for air conditioners caused an overload.

Northern Italy is also facing possible water shortages due to lack of rainfall and evaporation has spiked. Farmers say there is only enough water to guarantee irrigation for two weeks.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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