Heat wave paralyses the capital

16.08.08: LONDON TAXIS were used as makeshift ambulances when the capital was overwhelmed by a heat wave.

After temperatures topped 35C for five consecutive days, the emergency services were unable to cope with the unprecedented number of heat-related fatalities and illnesses.

"We don't have accurate figures yet but there have been thousands of casualties," said a London health spokesman.

The bad news from the Meteorological Office is that there is unlikely to be any relief for at least three or four days.

Most of the casualties are children or elderly people with bronchial or heart problems, but many previously healthy adults have suffered convulsions ­ and in some cases coma ­ through heatstroke.

On government advice, most building sites have been closed, and essential outdoor work has to be carried out in the early hours of the morning.

The heat wave is the latest in a growing list of extreme climatic events. In February, a record storm surge came within a few centimetres of topping the Thames barrier and flooding central London.

Severe flash flooding in the Severn and Wye valleys resulted in what may be the permanent evacuation of parts of the West Midlands.

Many towns and villages along the coasts of Suffolk, Norfolk and Lincolnshire are having to come to terms with the reality of "managed retreat" in the face of rising sea levels.

Paradoxically, there are as many problems from too little water as from too much. Unless next winter brings heavier than average rainfall to compensate for eight years of summer drought, there will be water shortages and restrictions throughout eastern and southern England.

Environmental campaigners are in no doubt where the blame lies.

"Despite all the fine talk in the final decade of the last millennium," said Sir Terence Moore, the president of Friends of the Future, "we are still not meeting pollution targets. Global warming is here.

"The best thing you can say about the outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis following water contamination in Hereford and