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European Records Smashed As Continent Continues To Swelter

Paris, London and places across Europe are sweltering under record high temperatures or near-record heat as the second heat wave this northern summer bakes the continent.

One by one, heat records are being broken across Europe.

On Thursday afternoon the Paris area hit 40.6C beating the previous record of 40.4C in 1947. Authorities said the temperature was still rising, as a result of hot, dry air coming from northern Africa that's trapped between cold stormy systems.

People cool off next to the fountains at Louvre Museum in Paris. Photo: AP

London expects to see 39C. And swaths of Germany, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Switzerland could face temperatures exceeding 40C.

In Belgium, the meteorological institute said the nation saw temperatures rise past the 40C mark for the first time since records were kept in 1833. The new record high now stood at 40.2C, recorded close to Liege in eastern Belgium's Angleur on Wednesday.

Germany recorded 40.5C on Wednesday, and the German Weather Service is expecting even higher temperatures on Thursday.

Photo: PA

Across Germany, Switzerland and Austria, some communities painted rail tracks in white hoping the light colour would bring down the temperature by a few degrees.

Across London and Paris, authorities and charity workers handed out water and sunscreen to homeless people and opened day centres for them to rest and shower.

France is particularly wary after a 2003 heat wave killed nearly 15,000 people, especially the elderly.

A man cools off in a fountain in Rome. Photo: AAP

Since then the government has introduced a colour-coded heat alert system to warn people when temperatures are expected to rise to dangerous levels in their area and trigger government assistance efforts.

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The alert system went to its maximum level of red for the first time during last month's heat wave , when France saw its highest-ever recorded temperature of 46C.

On Thursday, about one-fifth of French territory was under a red alert, stretching from the English Channel through the Paris region and down to Burgundy.

People swim close to the Baltic Sea beach, during heatwave. Photo: DPA

Summers are usually mild in much of Europe and few homes have air conditioning. It's not that common in hospitals, stores or restaurants either.

Electric fans are selling fast around Paris - and traditional folding fans seem to be making a comeback, waved by many on the stuffy subway.

In Bavaria's prisons, inmates were getting cold cucumber soup, fruit and yoghurt for lunch and more water than normal, the German news agency dpa reported.

The heat wave is intense but expected to be short, with temperatures dropping Friday and Saturday.

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As emissions continue to warm the planet, scientists say there will be more and hotter heat waves, like those increasingly hitting the US though it's too early to know whether this hot spell is linked to man-made climate change.

"There is likely the DNA of climate change in the record-breaking heat that Europe and other parts of the world are experiencing. And it is unfortunately going to continue to worsen," said Marshall Shepherd, professor of meteorology at University of Georgia.