Rising Death Toll No End in Sight for European Deep Freeze

Frigid temperatures and snowfall have swept across Europe over the last week, with well over 100 people having died due to the cold, most of them homeless. The dangerous weather is expected to continue.


Well over 100 people have died in Eastern Europe due to a winter cold snap that has held the region in its icy grip for nearly a week. From Ukraine to Italy, snow and temperatures as low as minus 33 degrees Celsius (minus 27 degrees Fahrenheit) have clogged road and air traffic, caused power outages, closed schools, trapped mountain residents and claimed the lives of those caught outside, mainly the homeless.

Some 101 people have died in Ukraine alone, with 38 new deaths reported overnight, the Emergencies Ministry said on Friday. Temperatures there have dipped to below minus 30 degrees Celsius, making it the country's coldest winter in six years. While most of the dead have been homeless people found on the streets, hundreds of others have also been treated for frostbite and other problems caused by the cold. Authorities have set up some 3,000 heated tents to protect the homeless. Most schools in the country are also reportedly closed.

In Serbia at least 11,000 mountain residents in remote areas have been stranded by blizzards that left snow drifts up to 16 feet tall. Rescue workers there have been working to deliver supplies to trapped residents. Helicopters have been sent out to deliver goods to areas there and in neighboring Bosnia, where it has reportedly been snowing for 26 days in the southwestern town of Sijenica.

"We are trying everything to unblock the roads since more snow and blizzards are expected in the coming days," Serbian emergency police official Predrag Maric told The Associated Press on Thursday. Fuel supplies are also reportedly low for snowplows in the area, where residents have been warned not to venture out into the cold alone.

Deaths have also been reported in Romania, the Czech Republic and Poland, where firefighters reported on Thursday that 11 people had died from carbon monoxide that came from charcoal heaters they were using to warm their homes.

Western Europe Shivering Too

Amid reports of record low temperatures across the Continent, many countries reported that natural gas deliveries from Russia had been reduced. Ukraine denied Russian accusations that it had used more than its share of the fuel, but the tone was reminiscent of gas disputes between the two countries in years past. So far, European officials have reportedly been able to compensate for the gas shortages with domestic supplies.

Western Europe has also seen freezing temperatures and a handful of related deaths. Italian officials on Thursday reported a homeless man had died of exposure in Milan. In Germany, a homeless man in the eastern state of Saxony-Anhalt was found dead on Thursday, after an elderly woman in the neighboring state of Lower Saxony had succumbed on Wednesday. Warmer temperatures are unlikely in the coming days, though, the German Weather Service reported.

Traffic along European rivers has also been hampered by ice. Authorities cancelled ferry service on the Elbe River in northern Germany this week, while at least three ships were reportedly stuck in ice along the Danube River, large sections of which have frozen over in Bulgaria.

But in the Netherlands, frozen rivers would be more than welcome. In Amsterdam authorities have banned boat traffic and shut down water pumps along some canals in hopes that ice will become thick enough to allow for ice skating. If this happens, the country will be able to hold a speed skating tournament known as the Elfstedentocht, or "11 Town Tour," for the first time since 1997. The tour's 200 kilometer (125 mile) route links 11 towns across the northern part of the country and has only been held 15 times since the first event in 1909.

kla -- with wire reports


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