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Portugal swelters as heat wave triggers public health warnings

Residents retreat to beaches and seek shade as Portugal's capital roasts in 106-degree heat.
by Linda Givetash /  / Updated 

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LISBON, Portugal — The suffocating heat hovering over the Iberian Peninsula has prompted public health warnings as sweltering temperatures pose serious risks to children, the elderly and everyone working or vacationing in the sun.

Forecasts suggested temperatures could reach 111 degrees in Portugal and Spain this weekend, with the potential to break European records.

Nightfall only brought moderate relief as temperatures in Portugal’s capital only dropped to 79 degrees before climbing to 106 degrees Friday, nearing the city's record of 107.6 degrees set in 2003.

It will be at least a few more days before people in Lisbon can get some relief. Portugal’s national weather institute expects temperatures to top 107 degrees both Saturday and Sunday.

Image: Lisbon heatwave
Catia Samtos, 35, escapes her office to get gelato on her lunch break in Lisbon.Linda Givetash / NBC News

“I don’t remember it being so hot here in Lisbon, these kind of temperatures,” said Catia Samtos, 35. “Last night was horrible. … I saw my little girl was moving in bed a lot. That’s not normal.”

Samtos said her house doesn’t have air conditioning — which is typical for many people in the country living in homes that date back centuries. The consequence, she said, was a sleepless night for herself and her 11-month-old Catarina.

Image: Lisbon heatwave
Zigy pants from the heat despite lying in the shade in the Alfama district of Lisbon.Linda Givetash / NBC News

During the day, Samtos said she’s lucky to work in an air conditioned office. Her mother keeps a close eye on Catarina at home, making sure the infant stays cool by drinking enough fluids and wearing not much more than a diaper.

Marco Cheu, 27, said he has air conditioning at home, but it’s no help to him while he’s at work at a restaurant in one of the oldest areas of the city.

“It’s too much,” he said, “I grab a little bit of water from the hose, it’s the best way to cool down a bit.”

Customers and tourists have adapted to the recent heat as well, he said, opting to come for dinner later in the evenings to avoid the harsh sun.

Image: Lisbon heatwave
German tourists Pauline Keller and Lena Zimmermann drink water in central Lisbon.Linda Givetash / NBC News

Pauline Keller and Lena Zimmermann, on vacation from Germany, were among the few tourists crossing through the landmark plaza Praça do Comércio, where outdoor seating at nearby restaurants was at least half empty.

The pair said they like the heat but they were making an effort to pace themselves.

“You really have to make sure to stay hydrated and search for cool drinks and food,” Keller said.

Keller’s home country of Germany has also been hit hard by the heat wave hitting the continent, posing significant losses to agriculture.

Farther north, Paris was also expecting to see temperatures reach 97 degrees this weekend, prompting Mayor Anne Hidalgo to open city parks overnight for residents looking to escape their stifling apartments.

The World Meteorological Organization reported that a stationary high pressure system, common in summers, is behind the hot temperatures. But the heat waves felt this summer are also a side effect of climate change that is generating more extreme weather events in the long term.

Even with air conditioning, Diogo Gaspar, 27, said he has still struggled to sleep.

He spends his days outdoors managing a fruit and beverage stand by the Arco do Castelo, near the São Jorge Castle, a Moorish landmark popular with tourists.

“In the streets is very difficult,” he said, adding that he escapes to the southern coast as often as he can to cool off.

Image: Lisbon heatwave
Gabriela Mendes.Linda Givetash / NBC News

In Alfama, the oldest district of Lisbon, Gabriela Mendes said she’s used to the high temperatures. “You close your doors and your windows, you drink a lot of water, you don’t cook anything in the hot hours,” she said.

Alfama is a tight-knit community, Mendes added, and neighbors would quickly take notice if any elderly residents missed out on their daily routine because of the heat.

Air conditioning isn't necessary, she said, and it creates more pollution and is both costly and difficult to install in such old buildings.

But, Mendes said, “at the end of the day, you’re tired, and you don’t have a cool place to go. … That’s the hard part.”

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