Originally created 08/05/98

Heat wave sweeps Eastern Europe



BUCHAREST, Romania -- The worst heat wave in half a century has swept Eastern Europe, causing a reported 20 deaths in Romania and sending people plunging into fountains and standing-room-only pools in search of relief.

From Bucharest to Budapest, the region was sizzling again Tuesday under record- or near-record temperatures, hitting close to the 104-degree mark for a third week.

It was so hot that prison convicts in the Romanian town of Braila refused to work Tuesday, citing a 1986 order that gives them a reprieve when temperatures top 95 degrees.

And in Yugoslavia's troubled Kosovo province, Serb forces heated their baked beans by setting the cans on the fiery surface of armored personnel carriers.

Hungarians were consuming ice cream in record numbers, forcing the country's largest producer, Schoeller Budatej, to schedule three shifts to meet the demand.

In Bucharest, where the mercury has hit at least 97 degrees every day since early July, residents plunged into the city's fountains, lakes and the dirty Dambovita River to keep cool.

Hospitals in the city of 3 million were crowded with people who had suffered strokes, heart attacks, sunstroke or who had fainted in the scorching heat. The state news agency Rompres reported 20 deaths over the past two weeks.

About 2,500 people have called the capital's emergency services in the past four days and 15 ambulances were on heat patrol.

Bucharest Mayor Viorel Lis has sent City Hall workers home at noon every day to avoid heat-related accidents and has urged other employers to do the same.

Wheat, corn and sunflowers around the capital have been burned by the heat.

In the Bosnian capital, Sarajevo, the Health Ministry was recommending that people stay indoors from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. because of the heat.

In Belgrade, Yugoslavia, several dozen people fainted on the sidewalks Monday on the hottest Aug. 3 in 111 years -- 102 degrees in the shade.

In poverty-stricken Albania, where it was 108 in the capital Tirana on Tuesday, anxious mothers took their babies to hospitals for fear of health problems.

Croatia's beaches weren't offering much relief -- the Adriatic Sea was a warm 79 degrees to 82 degrees.

In the Hungarian capital, Budapest, public pools were standing room only, and a streetcar line suspended operations Monday when the tracks buckled.

A 77-year-old heat record for Aug. 3 was broken Monday when the temperature reached 98 degrees. It got even hotter downtown -- 104 or higher.

"We just can't work -- we have three fans going and it is still 95 degrees in the office," said Melinda Kis, a secretary at a travel agency.

A break in the weather is coming -- but not for long.

Attila Nadrai, head of Hungary's National Meteorological Service, said a cool front is expected by Wednesday, but the forecast for the region next week calls for more heat.