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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Hot weather hobbles Britain, a country unaccustomed to extreme heat

People sat on the sun-parched grass in Greenwich Park in London on Sunday.

By Mark Landler

Trains slowed to a crawl. Schools and doctors’ offices shut their doors. The British Museum closed off its upper galleries, then the entire museum. The government urged people to work from home.

Much of Britain took an involuntary siesta Monday as merciless heat scorched the country, driving temperatures close to triple digits Fahrenheit by midafternoon and threatening to smash records.

By midafternoon, Wales had provisionally recorded the hottest day in its history, with the thermometer in Hawarden hitting 98.8 degrees Fahrenheit (37.1 Celsius). The record for England of 101.7 degrees Fahrenheit (38.7 Celsius) was set in 2019, according to the Met Office, Britain’s national weather service. At 3 p.m., the mercury in Kew Gardens in London hovered just under 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

For Americans in states that regularly sizzle, those numbers might seem underwhelming, but this is happening in a country unprepared for such extremes. In a nation known for its scudding clouds, frequent showers and temperate weather, the blazing heat was enough to hobble much of the country.

Some train services were canceled, while others were running at reduced speeds out of fear that the heat could cause tracks to buckle. Few homes have air conditioning. Britain’s Air Force said it had halted flights into and out of its largest base as a “preventative measure,” indicating that some of the tar on the runway may have melted, and flights into and out of London’s Luton Airport were disrupted after the temperatures caused a “surface defect” on the runway.

And the chains of one bridge over the River Thames that dates to Victorian times have been wrapped in reflective foil to protect them from the heat of the sun.

The country is under a widespread “red” warning for heat issued by the government for the first time in history. Officials urged people to use public transportation only if necessary and to work from home Monday and Tuesday — a plea reminiscent of the depths of the coronavirus pandemic.

Hospitals and nursing homes were a major cause of concern, officials said, with many older and other vulnerable patients in buildings without air conditioning. Officials urged schools, in their final week of classes before a break, not to close because it would leave children unsupervised in the heat — a directive that some education districts were ignoring.

Britain’s history-making heat came as its governing Conservative Party was in the midst of a clamorous leadership race, in which combating climate change has fallen well down the list of priorities. The cost-of-living crisis has — for now, at least — elbowed aside the government’s ambitious targets to reach “net zero” by 2050, with the five remaining candidates offering only tepid endorsements of the policy.

As temperatures climbed in London on Monday morning, Marilyn Mendoza, 56, was waiting at a subway station in the city’s northwest to head to her part-time job as a cleaner. “I have asthma, so it’s really not good for me,” Mendoza said.

On the stifling London Underground, Georgia McQuade, 22, hauled a heavy suitcase, as she made her way to Victoria bus station, where she planned to catch a bus home to Paris.

“The Tube is really hot right now,” McQuade said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to get an Uber car service, because using cars so much is what caused this heat in the first place.”

She expected to encounter even higher temperatures in Paris, as a mass of hot air has baked Italy and Spain over the past week and fanned wildfires in France and other parts of Europe. Then it spilled across the English Channel.

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