More than 220 dead as big freeze grips Europe

Published Feb 04, 2012 07:00am

A man walks near the Neris river in the Vilnius, Lithuania,Thursday, Feb. 02, 2012, as morning temperatures plummeted to -30 Celsius. — Photo by AP

KIEV: Temperatures have plunged to new lows in Europe where a week-long cold snap has now claimed more than 220 lives as forecasters warned that the big freeze would tighten its grip over the weekend.

A total of 223 people have died from the cold weather in the last seven days according to an AFP tally, with Ukraine suffering the heaviest toll.

People have been found dead on the streets in some countries, while thousands have been trapped in mountain villages in Serbia.

In Italy, Venice's canals started freezing over and even Rome was dusted in snow.

The lowest temperatures recorded in Europe were in the southwest of the Czech Republic, where the mercury dropped as low as minus 38.1 degrees Celsius overnight Thursday.

The EU executive said on Friday that vital Russian gas deliveries had dropped in nine countries, with Russian giant Gazprom invoking flexibility clauses as it also braves a cold snap.

Supplies fell 30 per cent in Austria and 24 per cent in Italy.

Ukraine's emergencies ministry raised its death toll to 101 since the cold snap took hold, 64 of whom died on the streets.

Almost 1,600 people have sought medical attention for frostbite and hypothermia and thousands have flocked to temporary shelters.

The chilling temperatures killed eight more people over 24 hours in Poland, bringing the death toll to 37 since the deep freeze began a week ago, police said.

Temperatures plunged to minus 35 Celsius in some areas of Poland on Friday.

In Bulgaria parts of the River Danube froze over, while another six people were found dead from the cold, bringing the overall tally to 16 in the last week, according to local media.

Most of the dead in the European Union's poorest country were villagers found frozen to death on the side of the road or in their unheated homes, the reports said.

More than 1,000 Bulgarian schools remained closed for a third day amid fresh snowfalls and piercing winds in the northeast.

In neighbouring Romania two more people died, bringing the overall toll to 24, and hundreds of schools remained closed.

In Rome, residents experienced only their second day of snow in 15 years, with white flakes covering palm trees, ancient Roman ruins and Baroque churches across the capital.

Up to five centimetres of snow fell in some districts and ancient monuments like the Colosseum were closed to visitors for fear of damage to the structure.

Canals in Venice, where temperatures fell as low as minus 5 Celsius, started freezing.

However trains resumed normal service across the country except in and around Bologna and on a local line near Rome after days of delays.

Three people have died due to the extreme weather in recent days, including a homeless man found in Milan on Thursday.

An Italian ferry with over 300 people aboard got into difficulties off the port of Civitavecchia, north of Rome on late Friday, hitting a harbour wall and ripping the side of the ship, port authorities said.

Two tugs managed to bring the “Sharden” safely in with all passengers and crew safe and sound.

In Estonia, a man was found frozen to death on a street in Tallinn, the first reported death there.

France also reported its first death after an 82-year-old man suffering from Alzheimer's wandered out of his home in his pyjamas in the eastern French village of Lemberg and died of hypothermia.

One person died in Serbia, but teams of workers ploughed through snowdrifts to get food, supplies and aid to thousands of residents of mountain villages cut off by the weather.

“To help a woman who needed to reach a hospital we were breaking through two-metre snow drifts, which lasted for two and a half hours,” said Vedran Taskovic, a rescuer in the southeastern town of Vranje.

The cold snap has also killed people in the Baltic countries of Latvia and Lithuania, as well as Austria and Greece.

Swathes of Britain were bracing for snow after temperatures plunged to minus 11 degrees Celsius overnight in some areas, with authorities warning that the cold could catch people off-guard after a warmer-than-normal winter so far.

Further north, about 40 people were injured in about 100 road accidents caused by powdery snow and icy conditions, police said.

The first snows to hit Belgium caused more than 1,100 kilometres of traffic jams on roads and highways, said automobile associations.

The last record was 948 kilometres registered in February 2010.

Algerian officials announced they had cancelled ferry services to the southern French port of Marseille because of the conditions.

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