Rainstorms bring relief as Europe suffers summer heat wave

BERLIN (AP) — Thunderstorms brought a much-needed cooldown to parts of Western Europe over the weekend as the continent sweltered under its first summer heat wave. Dozens of people were reported drowned as they sought relief from the heat.

Forecasters predicted further downpours Monday moving east toward Poland, which has seen five days of unusually hot weather.

Germany's national weather service DWD said temperatures in the west and north of the country dropped from over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) over the weekend to about 20 C (68 F) after a night of heavy rain.

After days of soaring temperatures, France was lashed by violent thunderstorms that sent a belltower crashing into the nave of a village church in central France. The storm also tore through vineyards and flooded homes and public buildings.

Winds reached 137 kilometers per hour (85 mph) in Champagne country, felling trees and ripping off roofs. Huge hail stones damaged cars and homes in the east, and the French national weather service registered 44,000 lightning flashes on Saturday alone.

No deaths linked to the storms have been reported but several countries reported drownings as people sought relief in pools, lakes and rivers.

At least 15 people drowned in Poland over the weekend, which was also the hottest so far this year with temperatures reaching 35 C (96 F). Rescuers say the most frequent causes of drownings are recklessness, overestimating one’s swimming abilities and going into the water after drinking alcohol.

Police in the Netherlands said two bodies were found in recent days at different locations in the Waal River, a branch of the Rhine. There was no immediate confirmation of their identities, but police in neighboring Germany said their descriptions matched those of two girls, aged 13 and 14, who went missing while swimming in the Rhine near Duisburg last week. A third teen was pulled out of the river Wednesday but couldn't be resuscitated.

In total, more than a dozen people have drowned in Germany over the past week.

Police in Austria said a 26-year-old man died Sunday after jumping from a 40-meter (131-foot) cliff at Wolfgangsee lake.

Moscow has also been hit with a heat wave this week, with temperatures spiking above 30 C (86 F) on Sunday. Russia’s weather agency Rosgidromet warned that the unusually hot weather, with temperatures 7 C to 10 C higher than normal, is likely to persist in the Russian capital and the surrounding region through Friday.

Russia’s public health watchdog recommended that employers cut working hours by one hour if the temperature indoors reaches 28.5 C, (83 F); by two hours if it reaches 29.5 C (85 F) and four hours if it reaches 30.5 C (87 F).

The European Commission said Monday it's readying a fleet of 11 water-dropping planes and 6 helicopters around the bloc to help member nations cope with forest fires in the coming months.

“The season’s risk for forest fires is forecasted to be above average, with temperatures expected to be higher-than-average from June to September in the Mediterranean region,” the EU's executive arm said. “The season might also see less rainfall, especially in central Europe and many areas of the Mediterranean. This can increase the risk of wildfires."

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Angela Charlton in Paris, Mike Corder in The Hague, Monika Scislowska in Warsaw and Daria Litvinova in Moscow contributed to this report

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