Terror, Fires, Hail: Holiday Time in Europe

BySue Masterman

V I E N N A, Austria, July 10, 2000 -- A terror threat in the popular, sunny Spanish isle of Mallorca is only adding to the woes facing holidaymakers heading to Europe in search of a little rest and recreation.

The threat, along with the upcoming visit to Germany of the Iranian President and a lethal mixture of record heat, torrential rain and hailstorms is making getting here and keeping cool just a little harder.

Several hotel companies in Mallorca have received demands, purporting to come from the Basque ETA terror group, for a “revolution tax,” according to reports in the newspaper El Pais. If they don’t pay the demands for thousands of dollars apiece they will automatically become “military targets,” the demand threatens.

Police are investigating whether the threat is serious. “Tax” demands have been used by the brutal separatist group before, but only in the Basque region where they are struggling for independence; there have been no attacks in hotels in Mallorca so far.

The End of Open Borders

With many schools closing across the continent for the summer holidays, traffic ground to a halt on Germany’s borders over the weekend. Germany has suspended the EU Schengen “open borders” agreement temporarily, ahead of the visit through Wednesday of the Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, the first Iranian leader to visit the country since the Shah.

The result of the crackdown is mile-long lines on all roads leading into Germany.

Border police are turning back Iranian travelers piecemeal. Huge demonstrations, mainly from Iranian exiles and German human rights groups, were already building up this morning in Germany, particularly in Berlin, where Khatami starts his visit.

How’s the Weather?

A massive heat wave, exacerbating a drought that has lasted for months, has blistered Southeastern Europe for about 10 days. It has already claimed several hundred lives from Italy across to Cyprus, and looks set to continue through the week. To escape it, one in five Italians went to the beach this weekend. Cairo reported 120 degrees in the shade. Greece is fighting to keep electricity supplies going.

But a whole swathe of Europe, from Germany down through the Alps, is suffering a wall of heat, combined with wave after wave of ferocious thunderstorms and torrential rains. Hailstones as big as tennis balls have injured people, wrecked cars and devastated crops.

That weather will hit the Tour de France today as it moves into the first major Alpine lap, tough enough under any circumstances. The riders will climb from humid heat up through fog, rain and maybe even snow.

Across the region, fires are burning, set off by careless smokers or perhaps deliberately. In Italy 28 different fires are reported burning in the provinces of Puglia and Calabria alone. A further 22 have been extinguished. On Saturday some 600 guests in a Club Med resort near Metaponto were evacuated, mostly by boat, as a fire raged towards them. They were allowed back yesterday.

See the Sights, Dodge the Flames

The south of France also reported 50 different fire incidents. On the Greek island of Samos, a favorite holiday destination, teams of 650 firefighters were tackling a “wall of flame” that threatened to sweep across the island. Fires also raged around Athens and Rome.

Turkey, Bulgaria, Bosnia, Romania, Macedonia, Croatia and even Kosovo are reporting outbreaks of fire as thunderstorms or carelessness ignites brush and forest that lie dry as a bone from months of drought.

Doctors are advising travelers coming from abroad to be prepared for tough conditions. For those heading into the Big Heat, it is important to drink gallons of bottled water, they say, and to be careful to protect children from direct sun exposure.

Do as the continentals do, they advise. Sleep through the heat of the day, and swim and party in the night.

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