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Drought-hit Italy fears emergency

Ticino riverbed, Bereguardo, Italy
The Ticino riverbed in Bereguardo, Italy, has been dried out.

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MILAN, Italy -- A state of emergency could soon be declared in Italy, which is battling its hottest summer in decades, as a heat wave sweeps through much of Europe.

Governors across northern Italy are asking for central government aid, warning that water supplies are under threat and agriculture is at risk, including vineyards.

Forecasters say that it may be more than a week before any significant rain falls in northern Italy.

Officials say that if there is no rain in the next two weeks, the government could call a state of emergency, which would likely include limits on water supplies, Reuters reported.

There are also fears that major cities could suffer power shortages as demand surges, especially for air conditioning. Officials say though that any power cuts will be announced well in advance.

"If Our Lord doesn't give us a hand then things are going to get really bad here," Don Angelo, head of Italy's Civil Protection Department, told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

As the draught continues, Italy's biggest river -- the Po, which crosses the north for hundreds of miles west to east and is a vital supply for agriculture -- has fallen to its lowest levels in 100 years.

"Vegetables and fruit prices could rise about 5 to 20 percent. And according to the Italian Confederation of Farmers, damages to Italian agriculture already amounts to 5 billion euros," said CNN Italia's Eugenio Ciuccetti in Milan.

In Rome, temperatures have been around 35C (95F) for weeks forcing some tourists to incur a fine by cooling off in the Trevi fountain, Reuters reported.

"The problems are increasing," said Guido Bertolaso, an official at the Civil Protection Department.

"We do not only have problems with drinking water but also with supply of water for agriculture and our industrial sector."

Meanwhile, record temperatures have also been recorded in Germany, Greece and Spain.

The German media is warning that parts of central Europe could become a desert by the middle of the century.

Authorities in Switzerland have blamed the heat for several drownings in lakes while fishing in some areas has been banned to protect trout stocks, Reuters said.

In France, Tour de France cyclists sacrificed aerodynamics for some relief from the heat by peeling back their body suits, while in London -- where the summer weather is usually unremarkable -- temperatures reached a yearly high of 32C (88F) Monday, surpassing parts of Spain and the Caribbean.

Sales of the traditional British summer drink Pimm's were four times higher than usual at the weekend, according to a retail survey Tuesday.


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